Dark Than Cotton by Titus Kaphar was created in 2017 to challenge traditional narratives of history, exploring issues of race and gender. The artwork is located in an exhibit at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Some interesting about the artwork are the 3D painting and the bold statement that the artwork depicts. The 3D aspect of the painting leads the audience to reevaluate their history and the truth behind it. The bold statement the artist wants you to understand, in my opinion, is that one race’s history is more important than the history of a country that a history of a country ought to be peeled away.
The bold statement is shown in the painting depicting a woman of African descent looking at President Thomas Jefferson as if her underlying story has to still be told. The purpose for the author to create such a bold painting was to create a representation of connection to history as it shows our America as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Titus Kaphar was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1976, but lives and works in New Haven, CT. Kaphar received his BFA from San Jose State University in 2001. Afterward, he received MFA from Yale University in 2006. Kaphar has received many awards including the 2014 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship, a 2015 Creative Capital grant, a 2016 Robert R. Rauschenberg Artist as Activist grant, a 2018 Art for Justice Fund grant, and the 2018 Rappaport Prize. In late 2014, Kaphar even created a painting in response to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of a young African American, Michael Brown.
Many critics may not agree with such a bold painting because of the illustration the painting gives the viewers of white males, including well-known figures from history such as Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. He aims to reveal something that has been lost for many years and investigate the power of history we know today. For example, Dark Than Cotton aims to show the reality of thousands of untold narratives about the truth behind history.
Dark Than Cotton has a vivid appearance, which is typically associated with an oil painting. Oil paint is a process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. The advantages of an oil painting are the flexibility and the depth of color that the paint leaves behind. All the colors that are used in the painting have something to do with the overall meaning. The painting is like in two sets, the woman and Thomas Jefferson. The woman has a dark brown complexion and light brown eyes. The woman also has a green scarf wrapped around her head with silver earrings. All the details of the woman lead me to infer that she is a poor African American woman, who just would like for her story to be heard for once. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson is painted in white and gold clothing with a red and gold jacket; He also had a white wig traditionally worn in the mid-18th century. The clothing and the white wig that he wore were all notions of the social status of the wealthy class while the woman in the painting had a green headscarf on, worn by most female slaves during the 17th and 18th centuries. The focal point of the painting can depend on the viewer. Some may say the African woman could be the focal point while others say Thomas Jefferson could be the focal point. In my opinion, the focal point could be either the woman or Thomas Jefferson because each is unique in its physical appearance.
This artwork, in my opinion, has a mature concept that some may not understand. Kaphar wanted the audience to look at history in another light. I feel that he based most of his paintings on the concept: Reality versus Textbook. Most textbooks wanted people only to see the good parts of history and try to hide the truth that needs to be known. Kaphar sees this and tries to get the world to see it too. Everything that is written in a textbook is not the truth; Someone needs to “peel back” the layers of history one by one to see what is hidden and understand. Dark Than Cotton, in my opinion, is an exquisite piece of art that I would love to have one day. This painting has the purpose and passion behind creating it. In the words of Titus Kaphar, “A painting may inspire, but it’s people who make a change.