Renowned artist and Art For Justice grantee Titus Kaphar was recently named a 2018 MacArthur Fellow. Each year, the MarcArthur Foundation selects exceptional figures working in the arts, sciences, and civic and community engagement, and awards them what’s commonly referred to as a “genius grant”. NPR spoke with Titus Kaphar about his work:
Walk into the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. right now and you will find a painting that has been ripped to shreds.
Another one, nearby, hangs half-loose from its stretcher, rumpled. It’s a portrait of Thomas Jefferson; behind it, you glimpse a seated black woman.
They are works by the artist Titus Kaphar. He takes familiar images and remakes them. Maybe he pulls a hidden figure to the front.
His work often confronts the history of slavery and racism in the United States.
‘If we are not honest about our past, then we cannot have a clear direction towards our future,’ Kaphar says in an interview.
As of today, Kaphar’s work has been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship — the “genius” grants which come with a $625,000 unrestricted award (paid over five years). The phone call informing him of the fellowship came at his total surprise.
‘The truth of the matter is: I did not believe the person on the other end,” Kaphar says. “And in fact, I said, ‘Stop it, who is this?’ But no, they reassured me that in fact it was real.