Painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and installation artist Titus Kaphar confronts history by dismantling classical structures and styles of visual representation in Western art in order to subvert them. Dislodging entrenched narratives from their status as “past” so as to understand and estimate their impact on the present, he exposes the conceptual underpinnings of contested nationalist histories and colonialist legacies and how they have served to manipulate both cultural and personal identity.
Created in response to the covid-19 pandemic, the Artist Spotlight series highlights individual artists, one week at a time, whose exhibitions have been affected by the health crisis. A single artwork by the artist is made available with pricing information for forty-eight hours only.
Artist Spotlight: Titus Kaphar features a new work directly from the artist’s studio. For more information, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Titus Kaphar in his studio with his painting The Aftermath (2020), New Haven, Connecticut, 2020. Artwork © Titus Kaphar. Photo: John Lucas
Titus Kaphar: In the Studio
Jacoba Urist reports on a recent trip to the artist’s studio in New Haven, Connecticut, to see his new body of work, From a Tropical Space (2019–). She writes on the emotional and sensory impact of these paintings and considers their singular place in Titus Kaphar’s oeuvre.
Titus Kaphar: Intricate Illusion
Bridget R. Cooks investigates the aesthetic and narrative conventions deployed by the artist, demonstrating how his paintings force provocative confrontations with history through complex modes of depiction.
Titus Kaphar: Can Art Amend History?
Join Titus Kaphar as he talks about making paintings and sculptures that wrestle with the struggles of the past while speaking to the diversity and advances of the present. Working onstage, he points to the narratives coded in the language of art history as he creates a new painting, demonstrating how shifting our focus can prompt us to ask questions and confront unspoken truths.
Seeing the Child: Braiding possibility
Titus Kaphar and Tochi Onyebuchi present an excerpt from their short story “Seeing the Child,” a poetic rumination on Kaphar’s latest body of work, From a Tropical Space (2019–).
In this video produced on the occasion of his 2018 MacArthur “genius” grant, Titus Kaphar speaks about the recurring themes in his work, his use of layering techniques, and the presence of multiple narratives. He also introduces NXTHVN, which he founded with Jason Price and Jonathan Brand in 2015. The nonprofit arts hub, located in the Dixwell neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut, offers fellowships, residencies, and other professional development opportunities to artists, curators, and students.
Still from “Titus Kaphar: 2018 MacArthur Fellow”
Impressions of Liberty
Titus Kaphar’s public sculpture Impressions of Liberty (2017) was commissioned by the Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey, in conjunction with the Princeton & Slavery Project. Kaphar’s work responds to archival records unearthed by the project, documenting an auction of six African American slaves as part of the estate of Samuel Finley, fifth president of Princeton University. Featuring portraits of an African American man, woman, and child etched in glass, framing a monumental bust of Finley carved into wood as a sculptural absence, the sculpture raises questions about who is remembered and who is invisible in our accounts of history, both written and visual. Impressions of Liberty was installed at Maclean House in Princeton, New Jersey, from November 6 to December 18, 2017.
Titus Kaphar, Impressions of Liberty, 2017, installation view, Maclean House, Princeton University, New Jersey © Titus Kaphar. Photo: Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey
2018 MacArthur Fellow
Titus Kaphar was selected as a 2018 MacArthur Fellow. Each year the MacArthur Foundation awards fellowships—better known as “genius” grants—to individuals from diverse fields who are solving long-standing scientific and mathematical problems, pushing art forms into new and emerging territories, and addressing the urgent needs of under-resourced communities. Kaphar was recognized for his work highlighting the lack of representation of people of color in the canon of Western art with paintings that deconstruct the literal and visual structure of the artwork.
Titus Kaphar. Photo: Sasha Arutyunova
Language of the Forgotten
September 11, 2018–March 30, 2020
MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
Through cutting, bending, sculpting, and remixing historical paintings and sculptures, Titus Kaphar often shifts the focus of their narratives to create new works that exist between fiction and quotation. His sculpture Language of the Forgotten depicts a monumental bust of Thomas Jefferson, carved as an inversion into wood, his profile immediately recognizable. Framed against this are portraits of figures etched into glass, standing in for the hundreds of thousands of untold narratives about usurped liberty—most famously brought to light in Jefferson’s case through the story of Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman believed to be the mother of his children. The work underscores Kaphar’s interest in history, in particular the question of whose stories get told and which ones get left out.
Titus Kaphar, Language of the Forgotten, 2018, installation view, MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts © Titus Kaphar. Photo: Jonathan Brand
Titus Kaphar in
June 29, 2019–March 22, 2020
American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia
Forgotten Soldier explored personal stories of enslaved and free African Americans on both sides of the American Revolution and their contributions toward establishing an independent nation. Documents, artifacts, and artworks, including a new work by Titus Kaphar, traced the experiences of African American soldiers who took part in the American cause for a free nation or took up arms for British forces in hopes of obtaining their own freedom.
Titus Kaphar, Forgotten Soldier, 2019 © Titus Kaphar
Titus Kaphar in
Suffering from Realness
March 31, 2019–February 2, 2020
MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
Suffering from Realness explored the politics of representation and the ways in which artists use the body to grasp at and recenter the “aura of realness” in an age of uncertainty. The artists in this exhibition examine the human condition from all sides, creating works in various mediums that are both personal and universal, addressing racism, violence, gender equality, the politicized body of wartime, the anxious body, the complexity of responsibility, and the future. Work by Titus Kaphar was included.
Titus Kaphar, Seeing Through Time 2, 2018 © Titus Kaphar
A Project by Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts
March 31–May 5, 2019
MoMA PS1, New York
Throughout their careers, Titus Kaphar and memoirist, poet, and attorney Reginald Dwayne Betts have used their varied mediums to confront the abuses of the criminal justice system. Redaction brought together poetry crafted by Betts from redacted legal documents with Kaphar’s etched portraits of incarcerated individuals, blending the voices of poet and artist with those of plaintiffs and prosecutors, reclaiming lost narratives and drawing attention to some of the many individuals whose lives have been impacted by mass incarceration.
Installation view, Redaction: A Project by Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts, MoMA PS1, New York, March 31–May 5, 2019. Artwork © Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts. Photo: Matthew Septimus