The following is an excerpt from an essay in Teaching Contemporary Art with Young People by Pamela Harris Lawton.
Power is a pervasive and controlling force in our everyday lives. Often it is so subtle we are unaware of the ways in which power in the form of laws, societal norms, behaviors, and institutional structures impact us. Art can reveal these hidden power structures for us to critically reflect upon.
Cost of Removal
Myth of Benevolence
Kaphar taught himself to paint by visiting museums. He works in a variety of mediums, paint, sculpture, installation, and digital, creating works that are multidimensional and sculptural. His canvases are often slashed or hanging off the frame to reveal the “unseen.” He uses juxtaposition in his work to expose fundamental problems with representations of power, privilege, and vulnerability--leaving it to the viewer to construct the narrative based on their knowledge of history and personal experience. Kaphar’s art expresses a need for new, more transparent, and inclusive histories.
In Myth of Benevolence, Kaphar literally rips off the façade of the Sally Hemmings-Thomas Jefferson romance.
Andrew Jackson, the infamous post-civil war, segregationist President of the United States is the subject/target of Kaphar’s Cost of Removal. Starting with the image on an historical portrait, with its references to heroism and power, Kaphar inserts nails and strips of cloth with texts. This disrupts the conventional hero narrative and starts us wondering. A bit of research reveals that Kaphar’s nails and cloth reference Nkisi, power figures from the Kongo in central Africa. Nkisi are healing figures that cure medical and social ills. By absorbing pain (nails), they transfer it from the “patient” to themselves. What is Kaphar saying by this juxtaposition?
Oropallo’s layered mixed-media works integrate paint, photomontage, computer editing, and printing techniques creating distortions not only in the figure(s), but notions of power, spectatorship, and exoticism. Her portraits blend figures from 17th- and 18th-century paintings with contemporary fashion fetish images, conflating history, symbolic meaning, gender and representations of the female body in contemporary art and popular culture.
Moon and Little Bird
Martin’s prints center realistic Black female bodies overlaid with mixed media, textiles, and collage that recall African heritage through symbols of power (masks, stools, etc.), evoking the liminal space between the physical and spiritual worlds. The power of her Black women subjects lies in their gaze, position, facial expression, and stance. Some works incorporate two figures, visualizing the interconnections between generations with compassion and empathy. Martin’s focus on Black women urges viewers to see them for who they really are and to consider their humanity.