After being named one of this year’s Creative Capital Artists earlier this month, New York and New Haven-based painter Titus Kaphar ART ’06 has garnered financial and critical support for his newest undertaking: The Jerome Project.
Chosen together with 45 other awardees — including fellow Yale alumnus Abigail DeVille ’11 — out of a pool of more than 3,700 proposals, Kaphar will receive up to $50,000 to pursue his work. The Jerome Project, which is still in progress, will focus on the American criminal justice system and its effects on the African-American community through the lens of many men who share the traditionally African-American name Jerome.
According to Kaphar, the project, which at times uses portraits of his subjects partially dipped in tar, began as an attempt to visually communicate the impact of the criminal justice system on those who are imprisoned. For a time, the portraits were submerged into tar in proportion to the amount of time the individuals had spent in prison, though his process has changed some over time.
“The tar became symbolic in communicating the varied impact [that] jail, prison, probation or parole has on millions of people in this country,” Kaphar said.
Creative Capital — a New York City-based art philanthropy organization — invested more than $4.3 million in this year’s award winners, with recipient artists ranging in age from 28 to 80 years old and coming from a wide variety of geographic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Associate Dean of the School of Art Samuel Messer ART ’81, who knows Kaphar from his time in the MFA program, underlined the importance of awards like Creative Capital within the art community.
“Creative Capital in my mind is one of the most beneficial grants a young artist can receive because it also provides [them] workshops in financial management,” Messer said. “Their focus is not only short term infusion of cash but helping artists understand ways to structure their life to support a long term artistic practice.”
In addition to the direct funding artists receive, Creative Capital also provides additional resources and advisory services to each artist valued at $45,000.
Elle Perez ART ’15 emphasized the importance of awards like Creative Capital for more than just financial and logistical reasons.
“Awards are also about validation,” Perez said. “These milestones are often nods to the fact that yes, the work one makes is important and meaningful.”
Perez said work like The Jerome Project is important to support because it addresses societal issues often avoided in the fine arts due to the artist’s fear of being branded as too political.
Rianna Johnson-Levy ’17, who has visited Kaphar’s studio, also praised the artist’s work for the way it challenges representation in art, as well as its interplay with issues of social justice.
“In order for people to stop treating black and brown lives like they don’t matter, we have to remember that marginalized people have lived important lives throughout all of history. They’ve always been worthy of art and portraits, although they are rarely depicted,” Johnson-Levy said. “[Kaphar’s] work has always challenged representations of black bodies and histories, and I think it’s remarkably powerful.”
Following the award, Kaphar will use interviews with men named Jerome and local high school students to create a body of work based on their lives and experiences. In its final form, the project will be a collection of paintings and sculptures, a documentary and a discussion panel on American mass incarceration.