Titus Kaphar: The Jerome Project

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Artist Titus Kaphar (b. 1976, Kalamazoo, Michigan) reflects on the history of representation of Black Americans in his paintings, sculptures, installations, and films. His art seeks to reveal self-evident truths about our society and to dislodge and amend entrenched narratives. He challenges us to ponder whose lived experiences we consider, whose we forget, and whose we erase.

In 2011 Kaphar was coming to terms with the personal history of his estranged father Jerome. His search for information led to his discovery of the prison records and mugshots of ninety-seven other men with the same first and last names as his father. He interviewed them and investigated their personal histories. Painted mostly between 2014-2015, Kaphar created a series of devotional-style portraits of the men, drawing on his considerable knowledge of several centuries of Renaissance and Byzantine religious painting. He painted the panels with gold-leaf backgrounds and then partially submerged them in tanks of tar. Initially, the level of the tar reflected how much of his life each man had spent in prison. Kaphar later abandoned this formula in acknowledgment that the amount of time people are imprisoned is just the beginning of how incarceration impacts their lives. Lingering aftereffects, such as difficulty securing employment and even housing, social silencing, the loss of voting rights, and in some states, loss of access to government assistance, can follow individuals for their entire lives.

The 15 works from the series on view in the Fenway Gallery demonstrate how Kaphar uses portraiture to mark the existence of these men, making us aware of the absence of incarcerated individuals from our national narrative. These men want to be remembered. They want to be seen. And The Jerome Project is saying, “we see you.”

Titus Kaphar: The Jerome Project is supported by the Abrams Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Wagner Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Media Partner: The Boston Globe

The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which is supported by the state of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.