Remixing History: Titus Kaphar [visual art]

{"Conversation Between Paintings #1: Descending From a Cross to Be Nourished at the Breast of Our Mother" (2006-2007), Titus Kaphar}

Titus Kaphar. With a name like that you’re practically destined for greatness, are you not?

I stumbled across his work thanks to a few blog posts from Toyin Odutola, another great up-and-coming artist who we featured here a few weeks ago. Kaphar earned an MFA from the Yale School of Art, was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem from 2006-2007 and mounted his first solo exhibition at Seattle Art Museum last year. Kaphar takes an interesting approach to painting. He creates exact replicas of famous 18th and 19th century European and American portraits and tableaux, down to the tiniest detail.

He then proceeds to rip them to shreds. Or cut out one figure, revealing another figure emerging beneath. Sometimes he crumples and manipulates the canvas until only one or two features are discernible. He sometimes dips them in tar. Or cuts out a figure from one painting and places it in another, sometimes jarring, context.

Kaphar literally remixes history and asks us to question commonly accepted beliefs about the intersections between race, sexuality, gender, and class. He asks us to consider who is telling these stories, who benefits from how these stories are told, and which voices have gone missing from the collective narrative.

In a way, Kaphar is fulfilling the potential of another Yale-educated, Studio Museum in Harlem resident, Kehinde Wiley. Wiley paints modern black men dressed in every day street clothes in the same vein as 15th and 16th century kings, saints and warriors. Wiley also asks us to re-consider historical portrayals of people of color, but I feel Kaphar’s paintings are a bit more nuanced and understated; not quite as bombastic and literal as Wiley’s work.