Episode 1: Revealing a Portrait
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Episode 1, “Revealing a Portrait”, considers what the canon of art history is and looks to a painting by contemporary African American artist Titus Kaphar to consider what it excludes. It also addresses the notion of “subject positions,” a way of acknowledging who we are and how that influences what we see and how we look at art. Kaphar’s work aims to make the invisible visible, and to reveal those figures that have been excluded from art history. His work highlights the Black experience, which has been overlooked in traditional art history courses, museums and other art institutions. In his powerful 2017 TED Talk, Kaphar demonstrates to the audience how European art has erased Black people, and how those people might be brought to the forefront. He uncovers his slightly altered copy of a 17th century family portrait by Dutch artist Franz Hals. He then proceeds to white out the prominent figures with a mixture of white paint and linseed oil, eventually revealing a small Black boy in the group. Kaphar notes that “Historically speaking, in research on these kinds of paintings, I can find out more about the lace that the woman is wearing in this painting -- the manufacturer of the lace -- than I can about this character here, about his dreams, about his hopes, about what he wanted out of life” (Kaphar, Can Art Amend History?). Episode 1 asks listeners to think about the role of history in art and the ways in which historical art is connected to contemporary culture.
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