There was lots of screaming when Hyeri Chun of Tenafly, New Jersey, learned that she had won the 2020 Congressional Art Competition for her state’s 9th Congressional District, represented by Congressman Bill Pascrell.

When she read the email informing her of her accomplishment, she said she started to scream. And her screams “shocked” her parents who were with her. 

“When I told them my artwork would hang in the Capitol, they were screaming too,” she said. “It is such an honor to represent my district and have an exhibition in the Capitol.”

Hyeri’s winning artwork The New American Hero features healthcare professionals with an image of Marvel Comics’ Captain America superimposed upon them. Like so much else in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic inspired her work.

The pandemic “cast a cloud of uncertainty” over Hyeri. “I was deeply confused,” she said. 

The Congressional Art Competition, however, was a way for her to work through the challenges the pandemic presented. Her art instructor, Bonjeong Koo, encouraged her to enter the competition for her district.

Each year the Congressional Institute sponsors the Congressional Art Competition for the U.S. House of Representatives. Every Member of the House may hold an art competition for high school students in their districts. The winning artworks are displayed for a year in an exhibit in the Cannon Tunnel, which connects the House of Representatives office buildings to the U.S. Capitol. Members of Congress, congressional staff and thousands upon thousands of visitors view the exhibit each year as they pass between the buildings.

The Congressional Art Competition was first held in 1982 and the Congressional Institute has sponsored since 2009. The Congressional Institute is a not-for-profit organization that helps Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helps constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature.

In an email, Koo described Hyeri as “a born artist with excellent insight.” She also has an “inquisitive nature” and was “always ready to dedicate her time and effort in creating her work.”

Following Koo’s suggestion proved wise.

“It helped me regain focus and passion,” Hyeri said. “My artwork is the expression of my newly found zeal for life.”

Hyeri used acrylic paints—her favorite medium—to create The New American Hero, a tribute to the essential workers risking their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. “While I was looking though the news and social media, I encountered the heartfelt sacrifice shown on the doctors and nurses’ faces with the deep marks from masks and face shields worn for too long hours,” she said.

“At the moment I wanted to show those essential workers who were risking their lives for the benefits for America as the new American hero, which is why I drew the faces collaged with Captain America, the most known American Hero.”

In addition to the pandemic, Hyeri’s older brother, Jiho Chun, inspires her. “Conversation with him helps me sort out different options,” she said. “His advice never fails to inspire and challenge me.”

Like Hyeri, Jiho is an artist. Hyeri says he critiques her work, and even though they have different views about art, his thoughtful advice—and her thoughtful acceptance of it—improves her artwork. For instance, recently she sketched a picture of her dog, but, according to Hyeri, Jiho said it lacked “special meaning” and needed “special elements” added.

After reflecting on Jiho’s advice, Hyeri decided not to include the “special elements” he suggested, but she did find herself drawn to add more meaning to the piece, which she recently finished. 

“I believe the piece holds my special gratitude for my dog for bringing me happiness every day,” she said.

To create great art, Hyeri says that she has “wiggle room.” Between an initial concept and the canvas, art can take some unexpected turns. The difference between the idea and reality formerly caused her “deep frustration.”

“I wouldn’t touch my work for days,” when her art wasn’t going according to plan she said. “Now I learned to embrace my art even when it takes different paths than my initial concept.”

When Hyeri isn’t creating beautiful art, you might find her on the Dwight-Englewood School’s lacrosse field, serving as defensive captain. Or you might find her on stage performing in musicals. Both activities also help her with her art. Performing in musicals helps her learn about the perspectives of other people, so she can tap into that emotional intelligence when she’s creating portraits. Likewise, she says lacrosse helps her be more creative while sketching.

“Honestly, lacrosse has helped me give a wider sight when it comes to art,” she says.