Gagosian Quarterly

May 10, 2020

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–).

Titus Kaphar, Braiding possibility, 2020, oil on canvas, 83 ¾ × 68 inches (212.7 × 172.7 cm)

Titus Kaphar, Braiding possibility, 2020, oil on canvas, 83 ¾ × 68 inches (212.7 × 172.7 cm)

Titus Kaphar

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. Photo: John Lucas

Tochi Onyebuchi

Tochi Onyebuchi is the author of Beasts Made of Night, its sequel Crown of Thunder, War Girls, and his adult fiction debut Riot Baby, published by in January 2020. He has graduated from Yale University, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Columbia Law School, and L’institut d’études politiques with a master’s degree in global business law. Photo: Christina Orlando

If I rush, then I’ll have to start over.

I’ll have to untangle and double back, and more time will have been lost. If I focus—focus on this scalp that glows golden before me, focus on the geometrical patterns I’m making out of this hair, focus on the message trapped in these patterns like parchment in a storm-tossed bottle—then maybe we’ll make it out in time.

In the book, Pa’s saying to me: Hey, baby girl. Tell me what you want. You want the moon?

She doesn’t know what’s waiting for her. Even as the vanishing happens. Already, her shoes have lost their laces and tongues. They’re blocks of magenta on her feet. The vanishing has done the same to one of my sneakers. The other is creased and shadowed and lovingly lined. Like her.

She’s not scared, and I want to wrap this moment in my arms. I want to fit it as snugly between my knees as I fit her. I want to braid a warning into its hair.

You want me to tie this rope together and throw it up high in the sky? Pa’s asking me.

The creeping continues. The folds of my dress undo themselves. The fabric flattens.

Get that rope nice and tight around the moon.

I don’t know what this thing is that is taking her from me. But I’m braiding and watching her read about a father lassoing the moon for his daughter and hoping that these things are enough of a message for her when we are apart. That she will be able to decode these things and know that she is not alone.

Now, when I get you that moon, what are you going to do with it?

The book is losing its texture. The moon on its cover has vanished.

You’re gonna eat it?

She’s still here. With me. Sitting on the ledge colored green. The child has soaked up all of the sun so that all around her is deeply saturated color—the smudged emerald coloring the door and the floor and the plastic chair against the wall; the red of the portal to elsewhere; the row of blue stripes cutting diagonally across the door.

Well, if you swallow the moon, it’ll sit in your belly. Then it’ll break apart, then it’ll become like air inside you.

She has the cosmos in her. Wherever she’s going, she’s taking the universe with her.

I’m losing her.

It’ll shoot through your toes and your fingertips.

This is what it is like to live on the other side of the vanishing. To lose what was loved. Before, I was the lost thing, and now she must be the lost thing.

I’m almost done with her hair.

The moon will glow in your hair.

My fingers thread through absence.

Excerpted from “Seeing the Child,” a short story to appear in the Fall 2020 edition of Gagosian Quarterly; artwork © Titus Kaphar; text © Titus Kaphar and Tochi Onyebuchi

Titus Kaphar in his studio, painting

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, Father and Son, 2010, oil on canvas, 59 ⅞ × 48 inches (152 × 122 cm). Photo: Jon Lam Photography, courtesy Friedman Benda

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.

The artist Titus Kaphar giving a TED talk

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.

Titus Kaphar at NXTHVN, New Haven, Connecticut


NXTHVN is a new national arts model that empowers emerging artists and curators of color through education and access. Through intergenerational mentorship, professional development, and cross-sector collaboration, NXTHVN accelerates professional careers in the arts. Join Titus Kaphar and Jason Price on a tour of the organization’s headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut. They discuss the founding and vision for this singular arts space.

Titus Kaphar in his studio, touching his painting.

Titus Kaphar: From a Tropical Space

Join the artist in his studio in New Haven, Connecticut, where he speaks about his latest paintings.

Titus Kaphar: Can Beauty Open Our Hearts to Difficult Conversations?

Titus Kaphar: Can Beauty Open Our Hearts to Difficult Conversations?

In this TED talk, presented during the sweeping protests against racism and police violence following the killing of George Floyd, Titus Kaphar describes how the beauty of a painting can draw the viewer in and allow difficult conversations to emerge. Kaphar discusses his own work and shares the idea behind NXTHVN, a new national arts model he founded to empower artists of color through education and access.

Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, 1977. Entire field from northwest exterior looking southeast, summer 1979

A Day in the Life of The Lightning Field

In the first of a two-part feature, John Elderfield recounts his experiences at The Lightning Field (1977), Walter De Maria’s legendary installation in New Mexico. Elderfield considers how this work requires our constantly finding and losing a sense of symmetry and order in shifting perceptions of space, scale, and distance, as the light changes throughout the day.

Catherine Deneuve, Jacques Demy, and Françoise Dorléac on the set of Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Jacques Demy

Carlos Valladares reminisces, in this personal essay, about the director’s films.

Augurs of Spring

Augurs of Spring

As spring approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, Sydney Stutterheim reflects on the iconography and symbolism of the season in art both past and present.

Jacqueline Breton, André Masson, André Breton, and Varian Fry at the Villa Air-Bel, near Marseille, France, 1941

The Bigger Picture
Artist Persecution and Protection

Gillian Jakab explores some of the history of the persecution of artists and looks at individuals and organizations that have taken up their cause. Through interviews with groups serving artists at risk today, she illuminates pressing questions of refuge in the age of digital media, autocratic nationalism, and pandemic.

Behind the scenes photograph of Miranda July's short-film, Nichols Canyon Road.

Miranda July on Nichols Canyon

A new short film and essay by Miranda July, inspired by David Hockney’s painting Nichols Canyon (1980).

Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, gelatin silver print, 5 ¼ × 5 ¼ inches (12.7 × 12.7 cm) © Woodman Family Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Living Death

As part of “New Interiorities,” a supplement guest edited by Alison M. Gingeras and Jamieson Webster for the Winter 2020 issue of the Quarterly, Jacqueline Rose writes powerfully and soberly on the future of feminism in the time of covid.