"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Monday, July 2, 2018

Behind the Myth of Benevolence

This 2014 piece entitled Behind the Myth of Benevolence by Titus Kaphar is currently on display in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
“In what seems like an investigation on the infallibility of the American founding fathers, in Behind the Myth of Benevolence Kaphar takes a portrait of Thomas Jefferson and draws it back as a curtain to reveal another portrait of a black woman, transforming painting into sculpture. She is erotically painted in an Orientalist manner: seminude in a turban that addresses exotic fetishes found in the mythology of black sexuality. The ‘revealing-the-unseen’ positioning behind a white man—a powerful US President who wrote the Declaration of Independence—sets the stage for a world of metaphors for the viewer to unravel. The artist points out fundamental problems in representation, then trusts his audience to create the narrative form. Above all Kaphar makes these creative jumps accessible.” -- Artslant


  1. Good point. I too have never heard of a benevolent rapist.

  2. Listening to Titus on NPR...benevolent my ass. I think Jefferson struggled with the morality of slavery, but he owned slaves just the same. The children he sired were owned by him. They did not get to eat in the BIG HOUSE, go to school, or call him Daddy.

  3. Very interesting conversation. Kudos to the artist for conveying a very complex conversation in a very thoughtful way. I hope that level heads like these stimulate further conversation to mend unconscionable tear in the fabric of US.