Titus Kaphar on Putting Black Figures Back Into Art History and His Solution for the Problem of Confederate Monuments

Titus Kaphar on Putting Black Figures Back Into Art History and His Solution for the Problem of Confederate Monuments

By Terence Trouillot for Artnet - 27March 2019

We spoke to the artist ahead of his shows at both Mass MoCA and MoMA PS1.

Titus Kaphar came into the limelight soon after Time magazine commissioned him in 2014 to make a painting for one of its “Person of the Year” finalists, the Ferguson Protesters. The painting, Yet Another Fight For Remembrance (2014), is a 4-by-5-foot tableau depicting a group of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, streaked of white paint, as if erased from the picture plane or, more figuratively, the annals of history.

Since then, the 43-year-old artist—in addition to receiving numerous accolades for his work, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018—has been making paintings and sculptures that confront history head on: how it’s being told visually, and what is wiped from the record. Using various techniques such as cutting, tar dipping, shredding, and crumpling, the artist exposes the troubling histories of our nation’s past, while also unearthing those that have been hitherto forgotten or untold.

Recently, artnet News spoke to Kaphar to discuss his upcoming shows at Mass MoCA and MoMA PS1, his humble beginnings as an artist, and what to do with confederate monuments.

I wonder if you could start by talking about your own evolution as an artist. It’s my understanding that you came to art later in life, correct? 

I did. I was in my mid-twenties when I decided ultimately that this was what I wanted to do. Prior to that I thought I wanted to be a rock star. [laughter]. Maybe I still do a little bit. I’m a bass player.

Let me step back a little bit. I didn’t do well at school. I failed most of the classes that I took. I got kicked out of kindergarten. I was suspended very often in high school. I wasn’t a good student to say the least. I went on to junior college only because I was trying to impress a woman who would later become my wife. Long story short, I took an art history class in junior college and it opened up the world to me. It made me realize that I had a kind of visual intelligence I never knew existed, and that if I could understand the world through images—and sound also—I could figure things out. So I went from being a very poor student to being on the dean’s list, and that was mind blowing to me. That sent me on this journey to pursue art and it started off as this very art-historical approach. I was taking as many art history classes as I could find.

Read the full interview