Quarantined by Amanda Yan, 2021 Congressional Art Competition winner for New Jersey’s First Congressional District

A person in a hoodie looks downward. Her hoodie gets lost in the solid, unbroken black background. But light from the bottom right of the image splashes the girl’s face, showing her frown.

The girl is Amanda Yan, the 2021 winner of the Congressional Art Competition for New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District. Her winning graphite-and-charcoal drawing Quarantined is a self-portrait depicting a scene so many people can relate to: staring at screens all day during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

But the darkness and the frown show something deeper: Amanda tried to convey the solitude from the period and the emotional toll it took. She said the isolation during the coronavirus pandemic “overwhelmed” her.

“Most of my life took place digitally, and at times it was difficult for many students, including myself, to be completely shut off from friends and teachers,” she said.

At the same time, Amanda has a more hopeful message she wished to convey with her artwork. 

“It’s ok to feel lost at times, but it will soon pass, and there are many people who will support you along the way,” she said.

One person who has supported Amanda is her art teacher Bernadette Buote of Cherry Hill East High School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where Amanda is a senior. Amanda said Mrs. Buote “helps my art process a lot.”

As for the artistic process, Amanda advises: “Take some breaks to refresh your creativity.”

She also says that each part of a piece of art should have a purpose. For instance, according to her entry form for Quarantined, she depicted herself in a hoodie since that’s what she and so many other students found themselves wearing day after day during the pandemic.

While her winning artwork depicted life in solitude, she actually learned that she won the Congressional Art Competition while her classmates surrounded her.

“I surprisingly received the email during an art class,” she said, “but I held off on telling anyone because I was in disbelief.”

First held in 1982, the Congressional Art Competition is a bipartisan initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives to support the artistic talents of high school students. 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.

When she’s not creating art, she likes listening to music. One of her pastimes is creating Spotify playlists for “very specific moods.” Her favorite musician is the Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski.

She also likes watching Netflix. Her favorite movie is A Silent Voice, an animated film about a high school bully learning to make peace with his victim and with himself. Claude Monet, the 19th-century French impressionistic painter, is her favorite artist.

Amanda is also involved with her community and enjoys doing competitive cheerleading and charitable work.

Doubtless, her time on Spotify and Netflix and with her extracurricular activities feeds her creativity. 

“I get most of my inspiration from music and other types of media or my own experiences,” Amanda said. 

In the future, Amanda would like to work as a designer, engineer, or doctor. Though she is still considering her options, she knows she wants to work with people.

“I would like to be doing something that is centered on connecting people,” she said.

Students who would like more information about how to enter should contact their U.S. Representative. Contact information is available at House.gov.

The Congressional Institute has sponsored the Congressional Art Competition 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. It publishes The Sausage Factory blog, Surviving Inside Congress, and the U.S. House of Representatives Floor Procedures Manual. To sign up for updates about the Congressional Art Competition, click here.