Just when you thought Oprah Winfrey couldn’t get any bigger, the queen of all media is now the subject of her own retrospective at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C.
“Oprah is one of the most influential figures in modern society, an embodiment of pop culture, a representation of the past but is so very present,” the exhibition’s cocurator Rhea L. Combs tells Architectural Digest. “She resonates with so many people. It’s a beautiful thing.”
The show, aptly entitled “Watching Oprah,” is divided into three sections, starting with America Shapes Oprah, which traces her early upbringing. There are photos of Winfrey on her first day of school in 1955, a high school scrapbook from 1971, and early advertisements from 1975 promoting her Nashville news show, where Winfrey got her start. “We’ve been able to watch her change and evolve. We can see her hope, potential, and promise in herself throughout this exhibition,” explains Combs.
A model of Winfrey’s childhood home, which is featured in the exhibit.
Leah L. Jones
This is illustrated through Polaroids of Winfrey’s family members, and portraits of the artists, authors, and activists who shaped her vision, like Pauli Murray, a women’s rights lawyer who helped organize the March on Washington, and Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, in 1968. “She came from humble beginnings,” says Combs. “Oprah lived the kind of life that doesn’t seem too outside the reality of many people today.”
The exhibition features over 250 objects, from her Emmy awards to the famous couch Tom Cruise jumped on, and the red dress Winfrey wore during the 2004 car giveaway episode (which is perhaps remembered best these days as a meme). There are also her personal journals and letters from Toni Morrison. Visitors to the exhibition, which opened June 2018 and is scheduled to run till June 2019, have Oprah herself walk them through her revolutionary path in daytime television through clips from her more than twenty-five-year career on-air (her eponymous television program ran until 2011 and was watched by billions of viewers in 145 countries).
One of Winfrey’s journals, chronicling her early work experiences.