social justice | May 11, 2020

Artist Titus Kaphar Explores Black Motherhood in His Latest Paintings

From a Tropical Space is the latest series from Titus Kaphar, the award-winning painter, sculptor, and MacArthur “Genius.” Although the New York exhibition of this work has been postponed, Kaphar is currently the focus of Gagosian’s latest “Artist Spotlight.” In a new interview with Vulture, the artist speaks candidly about the project he describes as a “surrealist, fictional Afro-futuristic narrative” about black mothers and the disappearance of their children.

Much of Titus Kaphar’s past work is rooted in art history. At first glance, From a Tropical Space seems to be a departure from that focus. “We don’t see very many pictures of black women in art history, period. They are not our Madonnas. They’re not our Venuses. They are not our odalisque,” Kaphar tells Vulture. “What we have is the depiction of black folks in general, and black women specifically, as enslaved and [in] servitude.”


Yet upon closer inspection, the work has more to do with the canon than first meets the eye. “When I looked at the compositions themselves, I realized that this [series] is a conversation about the Madonna. This is a conversation about the Pietà. These are mothers mourning the loss of their children. So in that way, the relationship to art history is there. It’s just, the expression has changed.”


The series depicts portraits of black mothers with their children erased from the canvas, leaving a blank cut-out where there bodies should be. Kaphar explains that they were removed very precisely with a razor blade, and that the work relates to the trauma these mothers are experiencing. “That kind of anxiety, that kind of fear in these paintings, culminates into this moment of absence.”


Read his full interview here.


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