Dismantling White Narratives of Art

Titus Kaphar is an African American painter, sculptor, and installation artist who confronts classical Western-style artworks. Being motivated by political correctness and exposing the truth of our nation’s history, Kaphar works to subvert traditional pieces and dismantle ingrained narratives we have all come to know, consciously or unconsciously. Kaphar uses a variety of strategies including cutting, shredding, stitching, and even erasing a part of an art piece or subject in order to make room and allow for a Black person’s untold perspective. Kaphar wants to manipulate colonial legacies and stories in order to highlight how they have further manipulated and marginalized several cultural and racial groups.

More specifically, Kaphar’s art addresses social and political issues in our society that have consistently been ignored and are only getting worse. He also incorporates his own personal life and experiences. For instance, Kaphar had an encounter with his estranged father Jerome and it resulted in a multimedia collection about the criminal justice system called The Jerome Project. This piece consists of portraits of 97 African American men who are inmates who share the same first and last name as his father. Each portrait is painted in the style of Byzantine icons and dipped them in tar. This juxtaposes the beautiful and ethereal portraits during the Byzantine era with the dreary and “damaged” history of African Americans. Kaphar also differed the amount of tar for each inmate. The more tar a portrait had, the longer sentence the men had. In later paintings, the amount of tar was increased to signify the long lasting implications that their silencing resulted from their time in prison.

Overall, Kaphar makes the audience question their preconceived notions about the traditional European paintings we all see when we go to museums. Of course we are all aware of the history African American people have faced and how that discrimination has stayed and translated into different forms today, and Kaphar wants to keep the conversation going. Kaphar wants to make the audiences shocked about his art and realize how there is a lot deep rooted discrimination within great works of art that are renowned today. Titus Kaphar wants to make sure there is room for African Americans in the art and creative world to be able to tell their stories and dismantle a narrative we all subconsciously accept.

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Kalyn Davis

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