In 2015, Titus Kaphar presented a selection of gripping portraits delicately drawn with white chalk on black paper in the CAC galleries. Looking closer at the tenuous lines of contours and features, viewers began to realize, with some sense of disorientation, that each individual face bled into others, and that the image was a composite of many portraits superimposed on each other.
Several eyes seemed to stare back from an abyss, while mouths and noses appeared to hover above the picture plane, conjuring inquiry into the lives of these fleeting faces. In these poignant amalgamation of faces, Kaphar had sketched Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and Michael Brown—overlaying their faces to signify the growing list of young black men and women whose lives have been taken too soon and unjustly by police.
Kaphar’s somber drawings hold a space for us to connect to what is intolerable. The unbearable truth of ingrained injustice, racism, and discrimination in our country. A truth of hopelessness and despair that is now bursting into an explosive nationwide moment of solidarity, mobilizing, and organizing. The artist’s overlaid portraits of men unduly murdered, faint, and difficult to see, memorialize the grief and outrage we are reckoning with as individuals and as communities. When we are unable to see, hear, and feel each other, art, such as Kaphar’s drawings, can remind us of the pain, the suffering, the injustice, and the grief that might help us to rediscover our humanity, and our accountability toward each other.
The CAC stands in solidarity with the peaceful protests across the country and condemns the racism, injustice, and police brutality enacted upon black and brown Americans. As we continue to reflect on the tragic acts of violence that have taken place across the country in the past few days, and for centuries before this, we—as a contemporary arts institution grappling with the ideas of our time—are committed to the fight against racial injustice. We are taking this time to regroup and organize as we figure out what action and ally-ship look like and where we can make a difference—in Cincinnati and communities beyond.
In the meantime, we are adding our endorsement and support to the great work that local agencies like The Greater Cincinnati Foundation and institutions like the African-American Chamber of Commerce are doing to provide resources and emergency assistance for minority businesses in Cincinnati.
At the CAC, we value equity, inclusion, and diversity. Our very existence serves to amplify free expression for all, regardless of race, class, sexuality, or gender. I hope the CAC can become a platform for conversation, self-reflection, connection, and learning for the Cincinnati community and artists at large who are courageously addressing the most pressing issues of our time.