Claudia della Sicilia by Amy Dong, the 2021 Congressional Art Competition winner for the 5th Congressional District of Illinois

Preparing food is often time-consuming, sometimes quite tiring or boring, and occasionally thankless. Yet cooking is quintessentially human.

So it’s often the subject of artworks, and Amy Dong, the winner of the 2021 Congressional Art Competition for Illinois’ Fifth Congressional District, has added her take to the genre with Claudia della Sicilia, an oil painting of a woman preparing a meal.

In Claudia della Sicilia, a woman in a blue dress and white apron stands at a stove, holding a skimmer spoon over a pan with steam rising out of it. The woman scooping with the spoon; the brushstrokes throughout the painting, especially around tiles; and the steam rising from the pan lend a sense of motion to the scene. But the rest of the scene is quiet. A ceramic spoon rest lies next to the pan, and utensils–most indistinct apart from a couple of ladles–hang above it. It’s not clear what’s in the pot, when the woman is cooking, or why she’s cooking. Her lips are closed without any discernable smile or frown. She looks at the pot–or is she looking elsewhere?

For all that was ordinary about the scene, Amy determined it was important enough to pay tribute to it through her award-winning art. She  wanted to capture the “domestic softness of a kitchen and the nostalgia of an action inherently human.”

“Beauty exists in the simple and mundane,” Amy explained. “I love capturing these moments of art, hidden just beneath the rhythm of our daily lives.”

Amy Dong, 2021 Congressional Art Competition winner for the 5th Congressional District of Illinois (Photo courtesy of Amy Dong)

A certain sense of simplicity might be one of Amy’s hallmarks. She said that she was “humbled” when she learned she won. And though she won this national honor, when she found out, something happened that most everyone can relate to as a result of the pandemic: She had technical difficulties on Zoom. During the meeting in which the results of the competition were announced, her computer’s microphone broke, so she was unable to talk–and she hadn’t been expecting to speak either!

She said she was “terrified” during the meeting. Nonetheless, she was also “extremely excited” to win the Congressional Art Competition.

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.

Amy’s award for the Congressional Art Competition doubtless is also a reflection on the mentorship of her art teacher,  Ms. Xiangbin Shi, who teaches art lessons in her home. Amy described Shi as the “most influential figure” in her “artistic journey.” Other young artists, including a Scholastic Art and Writing Award gold key winner, have also credited Shi with developing their talents.

Although Shi has mentored multiple talented artists, Amy tries not to look over her shoulder too much to see what others are doing. The best advice she’s received? “Never compare yourself to others.”

“Everyone has a different style,” she said.

Though everyone has a different style, Amy particularly admires the work of American painters Ivan Albright and Georgia O’Keeffe. Her favorite medium is oil. 

When she’s not creating art, she enjoys doing research and is particularly interested in data science. In the future, she’d like to be a research scientist. She also loves playing badminton, spending time with her friends and family–and her cat. 

Amy’s favorite musical group is the K-pop band Dreamcatcher. The 2015 hit The Martian starring Matt Damon is her top film. She said if there’s one book she could reach each year, it would be All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr’s historical novel set in World War II France. Despite Illinois being her home,  her favorite sports team is the Dallas Stars. “Go Stars!” she said.

And though she won the Congressional Art Competition for a painting depicting Italian cooking, her favorite food is sushi.

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

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.