Indian-American trailblazer Indra Nooyi inducted into Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

The glittering 2019 American Portrait Gala raises over $2 million; features former first ladies Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, November 20, 2019 – India-born businesswoman Indra Nooyi has been inducted into the renowned Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery and conferred with the coveted Portrait of a Nation Prize for her stellar contributions to shaping America’s history, development and culture.

As the highly regarded, longtime CEO of PepsiCo, Inc. (2006-18), Nooyi was instrumental in the lucrative restructuring and diversification of the world’s second-largest food and beverage company’s portfolio. On Sunday night, she was honored at the 2019 American Portrait Gala hosted by the Portrait Gallery. It was a star-studded, packed event with over 700 attendees including two former first ladies: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama.

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Honorees, presenters and artists at the 2019 American Portrait Gala hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Former First Lady Michelle Obama (standing fourth from left) made a rare appearance at the star-studded event. Seated third from right is Indra Nooyi, former PepsiCo head, who has been inducted into the Portrait Gallery. Photo credit: Ryan Kobane/BFA for National Portrait Gallery

A whopping two million dollars was raised in support of the museum’s endowment for exhibitions. No wonder as the sold-out, red carpet event was attended by the Who’s Who of Washington drawing cultural icons, celebrities, artists, business leaders, and powerful politicians. Nooyi was presented the prestigious prize by Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Clearly elated by the high honor, the former PepsiCo chief said on Twitter: “When I arrived in the United States from India, I never dared to think – as a South Asian, immigrant woman – that my portrait will be included in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. I am moved beyond measure to be embraced as part of the American story in this way”.

Her stunning portrait, created by artist Jon R. Friedman, will be on view in the gallery’s ‘Recent Acquisitions’ exhibit, now through August 30, 2020.

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Speaking to reporters at the gala, Nooyi said, “I think the big difference in my portrait is that they asked me a question: What’s meaningful for you – a picture of my parents, picture of my husband and kids, a picture of a PepsiCo annual report or a Yale (University) hat? All these are major factors in my life. So, it’s in a way an unusual portrait because I have all that behind me which most portraits don’t have”.

Responding to a question, she said, “I feel very grateful to be making a home here in this country because this portrait gallery is an accolade which I’ve never dreamed of. And it’s heartwarming to see this”.

She noted, “It doesn’t matter what your background, color, creed, ethnicity is. As long as you’ve made a positive impact to the country, we are going to celebrate you – actually memorialize – which I thought was even more spectacular”.

Nooyi was among six contemporary luminaries to receive the prestigious prize, together with such illustrious recipients as: Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold, scientist and engineer; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, tech entrepreneur and philanthropist; Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, actor and Hamilton creator; Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, US artistic director and global content advisor of Conde Nast; and the award-winning American band, Earth, Wind & Fire.

Obama, graceful as ever and glamorous in a yellow gown from Schiaparelli Haute Couture styled with subtle diamonds, presented the prize to Miranda. About her “good friend”, she tweeted, “With his melodies, rhymes and nonstop energy, he’s painted as honest a portrait of our country as I’ve ever seen, lifting folks up through his work onstage and off”.

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Nepali immigrant Prabal Gurung was recognized as the evening’s Honorary Fashion Designer. “This is surreal that I am their first honorary designer”, he tweeted, on his way to the glittering gala. “Tonight’s going to be magical. Simply surreal”, he gushed.

“The 2019 American Portrait Gala was a night like no other here at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery”, stated Kim Sajet, the first woman to serve as director of the museum and brainchild behind the supremely successful event, in a press communique following the third edition. “We honored an incredible group of people who have excelled in their chosen fields and then made a commitment to pass on their knowledge and advice to the next generation. Equally impactful were their presenters who proved that every person, no matter how accomplished, needs the support of family and friends to succeed, and the artists whose skills have left a visible reminder that representation matters”.

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Former First Lady Hillary Clinton and former PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi at the 2019 American Portrait Gala hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on November 17, 2019, in Washington, DC. Photo by Joy Asico/Invision for National Portrait Gallery/AP Images

The National Portrait Gallery tells “the story of America by portraying the people who shape the nation’s history, development and culture”. The famed museum houses an awe-inspiring collection of over 23,000 portraits of important figures that have changed the American landscape.

The American Portrait Gala is a biennial ticketed fundraising event established in 2015 to strengthen the museum’s endowment for exhibitions and to highlight the museum’s work with living sitters and contemporary artists.

Among the political heavyweights at this year’s gala were: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer; senators Patrick Leahy (Democrat-Vermont) and Roy Blunt (Republican-Missouri); Representatives Don Beyer (Democrat-Virginia), Doris Matsui (Democrat-California) and Mark Meadows (Republican-North Carolina); and former governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe.

An online link:

Indian American trailblazer Indra Nooyi inducted into Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

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