The Heinz History Center’s current exhibition, Smithsonian’s Portraits of Pittsburgh: Works from the National Portrait Gallery, reminds us of the remarkable national impact of people whose lives have intersected with this region. But the exhibition also challenges us to recognize the gaps in this legacy. Too many faces and stories still lack representation in contemporary museum collections. This is especially true for portraiture, a type of art that by its very nature was immersed in issues of power and status.
Why do some stories predominate while others are missing in these spaces and collections, primarily the legacies of women and people of color? How can we broaden definitions of American achievement today and ensure that a fuller spectrum of stories and people are represented? The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery calls this “the presence of absence”: the reality that some people did not have their portrait taken or preserved, that not all legacies have been accorded equal consideration, and that these missing chapters are as much a part of the story as those that are included.
Cookies as Portrait Advocacy
As part of the ongoing program series for the Portraits of Pittsburgh exhibition, the History Center has been exploring aspects of this challenge in different formats. A recent virtual event presented the incredible creations of Pittsburgh’s own celebrated “cookie portraitist” Jasmine Cho, whose advocacy efforts to raise the profile of Asian American histories has been featured through such national forums as CBS This Morning and Ted Talks.
As part of this event, Jasmine selected six Pittsburgh cultural leaders to be featured in her cookie portraits. Keep reading to learn more about them, then stop by the museum to check them out in person!
Karen Fung Yee
Karen Fung Yee (1938-2019) was beloved as the “godmother” of Pittsburgh’s Chinese American community. She served as chairwoman of the University of Pittsburgh’s Chinese National Room Committee, and her father Hoy Fung (1904-2003) was one of the Room’s first funders. Yee served as the first female president of the Organization for Chinese Americans and taught the Japanese floral art form of Ikenobo, serving also as the president of the Ikebana International Pittsburgh Chapter. In the picture frame, Cho depicts Yee’s Parents, Hoy and Lorraine Fung.
Bibhuti Aryal is the president and co-founder of Rukmini Foundation, a nonprofit that works to provide quality education to girls in Nepal to combat child marriage and gender inequality. Aryal’s own great grandmother was a child bride. His grandfather became a respected teacher in their home village in Nepal, and his mother became the first girl to go to school. Today, Aryal’s foundation empowers girls in Nepal to finish high school. He has also served as the Chair of Governor Tom Wolf’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
Marian Lien currently works as the Director of Education for Inclusion and Global Awareness at St. Edmund’s Academy and serves as the current president of Pittsburgh’s Organization for Chinese Americans. As the former Executive Director of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, she established the Lunar New Year parades that now take place annually in the neighborhood. More recently, Lien has spoken out against the stigmatization of Asian Americans in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Leah Lizarondo is the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that uses technology to prevent food waste by linking distribution volunteers to retailers with excess food. A first-generation immigrant from the Philippines with a graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, Lizarondo left a corporate job after becoming a parent and discovered a new pathway to impact in the study of food. Today, Lizarondo’s service has helped redirect over nine million meals across six North American cities, with plans to expand to more.
Wasi Mohamed works as the Pittsburgh Director of Community Entrepreneurship for Forward Cities. As the former Executive Director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, Mohamad’s leadership made national news after he helped raise over $70,000 in support of the survivors of the 2019 Tree of Life mass shooting. A lifelong Pennsylvania resident who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, Mohamed started a food pantry initiative between the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and Pitt students, then became the Center’s executive director after he graduated in 2015. The Thomas Merton Center awarded Mohamed their “New Person of the Year Award” in 2019.
Dr. Timothy Wong
Dr. Timothy Wong is the founder of iHealth Clinic located in Pittsburgh’s neighborhood of East Liberty. Featured in NPR, Bloomberg, and USA Today, Dr. Wong is working to revolutionize America’s healthcare system by modeling a micro-practice and charging a flat rate of $35 per medical issue regardless of insurance. A native of Toronto, Canada, Dr. Wong previously worked in Indiana, Pa. and specializes in primary care and using technology to improve patient health.
History Center senior curator Leslie Przybylek sat down with chef, artist, Pittsburgher, and cookie activist Jasmine Cho in the Portraits of Pittsburgh exhibit.
Leslie Przybylek is senior curator at the Heinz History Center and lead curator on the Smithsonian’s Portraits of Pittsburgh exhibition.