Gesù Church in Brussels

 

A DECONSECRATED CHURCH in Brussels, Belgium, served as the venue for a recent exhibition of religious paintings by Titus Kaphar. “The Evidence of Things Unseen” was presented by Maruani Mercier gallery at Gesù Church.

Kaphar’s practice is a sustained interrogation of Western art. He challenges historic narratives and questions what is seen and unseen. He has also been considering notions of absence and presence through the lens of the contemporary moment. “From a Tropical Space,” his first exhibition at Gagosian gallery in New York addressed Black mothers and loss. The show was on view concurrently with a presentation of new and recent paintings focused on Renaissance Christian imagery in Brussels.

The exhibition was staged in a time-worn space rich with grand gestures of Neo-Gothic architecture. The body of work explored Catholic iconography, questioned the racial representations of biblical figures, and presented a range of physical interventions for which Kaphar is recognized. The canvases were cut, crumpled, folded, and installed on the floor sans stretcher frame.

Silhouettes of god-like athletes, captured mid-air, were displayed. Other paintings were embellished with tar or submerged in tar. From Kaphar’s ongoing Jerome Project, a large portrait of a Black man was on view. The head portrait is one of many the artist has rendered against a gold-leaf background and dipped in tar.

The project began in 2011, when Kaphar was searching for his father’s prison records. His name is Jerome and the artist discovered dozens of men with arrest records who shared the same first and last name as his father. They became his subjects. Beyond their individual circumstances, the portraits raise larger issues of mass incarceration and the overrepresentation of Black men in U.S. prisons. Visually the works reference Byzantine holy portraits and depictions of Saint Jerome, the patron saint of librarians.

“This body of work is not a critique of the church, per se, it’s a visual representation of those religious stories, those stories that often took place in Africa and the Middle East, but somehow forget what people in Africa and the Middle East actually look like.” — Titus Kaphar

In “Jesus Noir” (2020), Kaphar revisited a 19th century French painting, duct taping a portrait of a young Black man over an image of a white Jesus. His friend and studio studio assistant served as his model. “I wanted it to feel like an add on, I didn’t want it to feel as though it was always meant to be,” he told CBS News.

The New Haven, Conn.-based artist also discussed the exhibition and the painting with France 24, a public television station.

“My grandfather was a minister and I come from a long line of ministers and so this body of work is not a critique of the church, per se, it’s a visual representation of those religious stories, those stories that often took place in Africa and the Middle East, but somehow forget what people in Africa and the Middle East actually look like,” Kapar said.

“In that particular painting… I painted a portrait of (my studio assistant) and duct taped it to the surface of the painting and this act of urgency trying to find space for saints that look like, well, I’ll say the saints that exist in my day-to-day life.” CT

 

“Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen” was presented by Maruani Mercier gallery at Gesù Church in Brussels, Belgium, from Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020

 

TOP IMAGE: Interior of Gesù Church, Brussels, Belgium. | Photo by David Bruel, Courtesy Maruani Mercier

 


TITUS KAPHAR, “Jesus Noir,” 2020 (oil on canvas, duct tape). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of TITUS KAPHAR, “Jesus Noir,” 2020 (oil on canvas, duct tape), “Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of TITUS KAPHAR, “Susan and the Elders,” 2014-2019 (oil on canvas), “Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


TITUS KAPHAR, “Ascension III,” 2020, oil on canvas. | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy of Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of “Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of “Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of “Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of “The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


TITUS KAPHAR, “Untitled,” 2020 (oil and tar on canvas). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of TITUS KAPHAR, “Untitled,” 2020 (oil and tar on canvas), “The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of “Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of “Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Installation view of “Titus Kaphar: The Evidence of Things Unseen,” Presented by Maruani Mercier at L’Église du Gesú (Oct. 16-Nov. 12, 2020). | © Titus Kaphar, Courtesy Maruani Mercier and the artist

 


Outside Gesú Church in Brussels, signage for the exhibition is installed. | Courtesy Maruani Mercier

 

BOOKSHELF
“Fired Up! Ready to Go! Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz” documents the life and art collections of philanthropist Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018). The volume includes commentary from several artists the collector supported including Titus Kaphar. When he first began to consider the kinds of programs and opportunities realized at NXTHVN, a New Haven, Conn., arts incubator for emerging artists and curators, Kaphar reached out to Cafritz. In the book he says, “When I first started thinking about the project, it began with a call to Peggy. She has made me very aware of my responsibility to others, especially younger artists. My work in New Haven has absolutely been influenced by her work. She leads by example.” The volume “Titus Kaphar: TK” was published to document the exhibition “The Vesper Project” in Zaventem and “Survey” in Knokke in 2019. An essay by Bridget R. Cooks is included in the volume.

 

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