This past Monday was our first ever all staff visit to the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). At the insistence of our President, Dr. CG Newsome, we were there to experience Titus Kaphar’s The Vesper Project and we were not disappointed.
The Vesper Project is made up of several large installations, a few photographs and then an additional drawing series called the Jerome Project. The large installations caught the initial attraction of my group because they are slightly interactive. You are invited to walk through a refabricated 19th century home, look through a window to an unusual portrait on the opposite wall and walk around a wall of objects that provokes many thoughts. The Vesper Project is based upon a fictional 19th century African American family who had been passing as white until their youngest daughter outs them as black. To be afforded certain luxuries and rights in life and then for those to be taken away because of your skin color, something unchangeable, is a devastating blow to this fictional family, but not so far removed from the lived realities of people that have “passed” throughout history. The home in the exhibit, as well as the supplementary surrounding structures, invite the viewer into the mind of the patriarch of a family whose whole world is falling apart as he deals with ideas of loss, identity, memory, history and family. It is not a coincidence that these are some of the same concepts that we discuss daily, here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Revelations spread through our tour group at the realization that contemporary art and history do not have to operate individually but that they can both speak to one another and provide a chance for meaningful dialogue through diverse modes of presentation. Looking at the art of Titus Kaphar helped us to have conversations about what it means to not know your family’s history or to have a history or story ripped away from you. Being in the galleries of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center helps us have conversations about what it meant to be taken away from your family and sold into slavery and what exactly a “black identity” was and is today. Essentially, we are asking and answering the same questions through different but equally important lenses. Through our visit to the CAC, we were inspired to have more collaborative interactions with the other cultural arts organizations in our city because we can support the same kinds of conversations and important dialogue even though our presentation styles may be different. This united front on our part, creates a more powerful impact on visitors that can encourage conversations not only within the Freedom Center and the CAC, but beyond the walls of either institution and into the community where conversations turn into instruments of change.
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Images from top to bottom: Image of artist, Titus Kaphar, Detail image of The Vesper Project instillation inside CAC and Freedom Center Team on tour at the CAC.
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