Amanda Gorman’s star was already ascending when she was named the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, while studying sociology at Harvard University, but it wasn’t until she read “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration that her hopeful words resonated with millions. As the story goes, Dr. Jill Biden was so moved when she saw Gorman recite “In This Place (An American Lyric),” written in response to the violence of Charlottesville’s white supremacist Unite the Right rally, that she asked the 22-year-old poet to compose a new piece of writing specifically for the inauguration.
Inspired by the inauguration performance, the Ghanaian artist Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne painted an evocative portrait of Gorman during her star-making moment. Mayne completed the work, which depicts a faceless yet charismatic Gorman mid-speech against a floral background, within five days. It shows her wearing her red satin headband and sunny yellow coat, both Prada, as well as an ornate bird cage ring that references the late poet Maya Angelou—who performed at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration—and her famous poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Mayne, whose visceral work highlights diverse facets of Ghanaian cultural experiences, studied at Accra’s Ghanatta College of Art and Design with the rising painters Amoako Boafo and Otis Quaicoe.
The painting instantly captivated the gallerist and collector Amar Singh, who purchased it from Ross-Sutton Gallery, the recently opened New York City space focusing on Black art helmed by curator Destinee Ross-Sutton. “This work must be in an institution,” said Singh, an activist who has championed women’s issues and helped legalize homosexuality in India. He was first introduced to Mayne’s work through the gallery’s current exhibition “Black Voices: Friend of My Mind,” which features works by David “Mr. StarCity” White, Glenn Hardy, and Dodi King.