Dismantling History: An Interview with Titus Kaphar

Date: December 2015
Skills: Writing
Client: Art21 Magazine

A canvas curtain slips from its place of prestige, revealing another that’s hidden beneath. The folds of a Thomas Jefferson portrait gracefully fall, and behind it we see an African woman bathing; her gaze at once determined, curious and solemn, as if she knows that she’s only just now being seen, but it’s already too late to matter. Titled Behind the Myth of Benevolence, this painting beautifully demonstrates the hidden histories that have been buried deep beneath the convenient narratives told in textbooks and on the news.

Titus Kaphar’s work deconstructs history and memory simultaneously, twisting familiar images to uncover those who’ve suffered under the prejudices institutionalized by the “heroes” we revere. Through The Vesper Project in 2012, he explored confabulation sculpturally, constructing chaotic scenes of a fictitious and yet misremembered 19th century house and family. In 2014 Kaphar addressed contemporary injustice with The Jerome Project, a series of small gold-leaf portraits of the men in prison who share his father’s name.

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