Titus Kaphar (b.1976)
Titus Kaphar (b.1976)
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Titus Kaphar (b.1976)

Another Fight for Remembrance: Study

Titus Kaphar (b.1976)
Another Fight for Remembrance: Study
dated '14' (lower right)
oil and gold leaf on canvas
59 x 40 3/8 in. (149.86 x 102.57 cm.)
Executed in 2014.
Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Private collection, Los Angeles
Private collection, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
T. Kaphar, "A Fight for Remembrance," The Georgia Review, vol. LXIX, no. 2, Summer 2015, pp. 199 and 208 (illustrated in color).
T. Kaphar, Language of the Forgotten, New Haven, 2019, pp. 62-63 (installation view illustrated in color).
New York, Jack Shainman Gallery, Asphalt and Chalk, January-February 2015.
Los Angeles, California African American Museum, Face to Face: Los Angeles Collects Portraiture, July-October 2017.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Painted in 2014, Titus Kaphar’s Another Fight for Remembrance: Study belongs to a cycle of paintings which the artist began in response to the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent demonstrations that took place across the country (a sister work—also called Another Fight for Remembrance—is in the permanent collection of the Yale University Art Gallery). Following the nationwide protests, and together with the artist’s own experiences of police aggression, Kaphar began to produce these powerful and personal canvases that spoke to the Black experience in America. Part history painting, and part political statement, Another Fight for Remembrance: Study reflects the individual and collective pain and anger that many young Americans feel, and represent the artist’s concerns that these reactions are not erased from the public consciousness by history. 

Commanding the canvas is the large figure of a young man of color standing with his arms raised. Set against a dark background, the figure—dressed in white—becomes an ethereal apparition, a ghostly figure that illuminates the surface of the canvas. His face is partly obscured by a makeshift face covering, but despite most of his identity being hidden, we can see the tremendous pain and anger that the young man carries in his bloodshot and tear filled eyes; finally, surrounding his head, we witness the traces of a burnished golden halo. Filling the rest of the composition are shafts of brilliant white light. Evoking the penetrating arcs of giant searchlights piercing the darkness, they are in fact the twenty-first century version of these wartime defenses, dozens of mobile phones being held aloft, with their flashlights on, documenting and broadcasting the protests and subsequent violence. Instead of piercing the darkness, many of these shafts of light have been blurred in reference to the artist’s fears that the impact of the demonstrations would become erased over time, the power of their protests diminished. The ‘raised hands,’ along with the accompanying chant “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” became a common sight at protest marches up and down the country, and have since become a prominent rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Another Fight for Remembrance has its origins in an invitation extended to the artist by Time, to produce cover art for the magazine to mark the events in Ferguson. Kaphar initially had hesitations because he didn’t want the publication of his image to become part of a larger mass media narrative. “I was really nervous about that. Not nervous because I didn't think I could do it,” recalls Kaphar, “I was nervous because I felt like, to a certain degree, I was participating in the very thing that might lead to the erasure of this issue. Once we see something on television, or in print, we are given a kind of permission to forget. And so I wanted to make something that reflects this erasure that happens… So for me, the white washing was about a kind of erasure” (T. Kaphar, quoted by A. Sargent, “Artist ?Titus Kaphar on His New Solo Show and Unarmed Black Men in America,” Vice, 2014, via https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/211200 [accessed 10/26/20]). 

In doing so, Kaphar follows in a long and honorable tradition of artists’ responses to institutional violence. From Francisco Goya’s The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid, “The Executions,” 1814 (Museo del Prado. Madrid) to Picasso’s Guernica, 1937 (Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid), and more recently Jean-Michael Basquiat’s paintings of police aggression, artists have long sought to immortalize war and acts of aggression. Yet Kaphar’s depictions are different, in that they are much more powerful and persona. Unlike Goya (who most scholars agree did not witness firsthand the events he painted, and Picasso who living in Paris when the Spanish town of Guernica was razed to the ground by German and Italian forces during the Spanish Civil War, Kaphar has himself experienced the anger and violence that he presents us with. Speaking directly about Another Fight for Remembrance he recalls an encounter he himself had with New York Police Department. Soon after the events of Ferguson, Kaphar and his brother were pulled over by armed undercover officers—with their hands on their guns—and accused of stealing artworks from a nearby gallery. After being questioned, Kaphar and his brother were eventually released. “It didn’t end the way it ended with Michael Brown,” Kaphar recalled, “But I did have that same fear that he must have had, as I was watching the police officers hold their guns and accuse me of something that was impossible, since the artwork I was looking at was actually belonged to me” (T. Kaphar, Another Fight for Remembrance: Titus Kaphari, audio interview, available via https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/211200 [accessed 10/27/20]). 

Titus Kaphar has maintained that although his paintings are often regarded as historical or political, they are—more importantly—personal, and that Another Fight for Remembrance: Study and its sister paintings are perhaps the most personal of any of his works. It speaks not only to the expression of his anger at systemic racism and police aggression, but also that those experiences remain constantly visible and not be erased from our consciousness. “The picture, the world that is represented in the history of paintings doesn’t reflect me,” says Kaphar. “It doesn’t reflect the things that I value in that way. And that’s the conflict that I struggle with so frequently, is I love the technique of these paintings, I have learned from the technique of these paintings, and yet I know that they have no concern for me” (T. Kaphar, ‘Can beauty open our hearts to difficult conversations?’, TED Talk, June 2020). Consequently, Kaphar subverts this history, updates it, and more importantly, makes it more relevant to today’s contemporary society.  

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