From a Tropical Space
“From a Tropical Space”—Titus Kaphar’s first exhibition at Gagosian—features a new series of paintings about Black motherhood and missing children.
While much of the New Haven-based artist’s previous work has made explicit reference to American history and utilizes recognizable figures like Thomas Jefferson or Ona Judge, these new vividly hued paintings depict fictional scenes. In them, Black mothers appear in everyday environments with their children—a kitchen, a bus stop, a suburban street—only the child figures are missing. Kaphar literally cut these children out of the canvas, leaving just their outline and a gaping white space behind.
Given the timing in which they’re being shown, the paintings in “From a Tropical Space” could easily be read as a comment about the disproportionate toll the pandemic and police violence has taken on Black bodies. But in an interview with New York magazine last spring, Kaphar explains he sees them as part of a much larger, and a much older history:
We don’t see very many pictures of black women in art history, period. They are not our Madonnas. They’re not our Venuses. They are not our odalisques. What we have is the depiction of black folks in general, and black women specifically, as enslaved and [in] servitude. When I looked at the compositions themselves, I realized that this [series] is a conversation about the Madonna. This is a conversation about the Pietà. These are mothers mourning the loss of their children.
Titus Kaphar, From a Tropical Space, 2019, Oil on canvas, 92 x 72 inches. © Titus Kaphar. Photo: Christopher Gardener.