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  • Writer's pictureSegolene Py

Titus Kaphar, New Alters: Reworking Devotion, at Gagosian

Until 15th May at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill is the exhibition New Alters: Reworking Devotion by the amazing African American artist Titus Kaphar, showing a new series of paintings, and sculptures, which marks the artist's first solo show in London.

My first impression when seeing Kaphar’s work at the Gagosian was surprise and absolutely impressed by the powerful message, that you instantly understand. For his first solo show in London, the artist mixes all of his expertise in different practices to his works shown. With big scale paintings and sculptures, Kaphar is disrupting classical oeuvres to subvert them and unveil the truth behind a whitewashed History. Titus Kaphar paints, cuts, sticks, stitches, bends medium to new representations.

Topography and Desire

During his art studies at Yale University, Titus Kaphar was shocked by one of his art history teacher's to skip a whole part of the curriculum which was dedicated to art including or made by Black people, because there was no time for it. The artist strongly opposed to the choice with no action took afterwards. He realised that, like most things, there was a whole part of History he would have to learn himself. In a TED talk he held in 2017, he described this experience as well as his own experience with his kids later while visiting national museums. A feeling of unfairness and that something was missing was growing in his mind.

We live in a world dominated by images, where what we see dictates how to think about a certain things and how to view it. An artwork can show how economic status is seen from one point of view, how people live

and have lived. But as everything else, it is always biased. In a way to amend classical and public artworks, and heavily encouraged by the lack of representation of Black people in classical art, Titus Kaphar's work defies this unescapable power of the image and show his truth. Carving the canvas to reveal a Black face, lifting up paintings to uncover history, or crumpling them to show forgotten figures, Titus Kaphar's works unearth unspoken histories to our contemporary times. In the work Nothing to See here and Topography and Desire, Kaphar unveils the critical period of the American Civil War in the black and white pictures behind the colourful religious paintings, a period of urgent meaning in the freedom of the United States.

I want to make paintings, I want to make sculptures that are honest, that wrestle with the struggles of our past but speak to the diversity and the advances of our present.

As imagery is incredibly meaningful and coded, Kaphar's work has an opportunity and aims to shift the gaze of the viewer to understand the impact of this narrative. He uses his outstanding skills to reproduce paintings from the Renaissance and integrate Black figures. Within the title of the exhibition, the artist revisits mainly artworks from the 18th century art world, where religion and portraiture was the main trend, to show some major part of American history that played a part and where major Black figures have acted in History.

Kaphar addresses the viewer to deliver his message of taking action. The artist demands that we take part, produce and acknowledge History and make sure it is told correctly without omitting any parts whether or not it is hard to hear. What would life be if it was as easy as to forget the terrible parts, when we only can grow and learn from them.


Titus Kaphar


20 Grosvernor Hill

London w1k 3qd


Can Art Amend History, Titus Kaphar, TED talk, 2017

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