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January 4, 2017

lettertoobama2017

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free…

January 4, 2017

In the final 4th of the month publication of LetterToObama, I present a single image by Titus Kaphar. His painting shows a familiar style of image – the founding father portrait – pulled back to reveal a black woman. It has a piercing message: behind the founding figures and ideals of freedom upon which the nation is supposed to stand, there is the unfree. It re-paints the story of American history.

LetterToObama has served as a platform for artists to present works engaged in social justice issues and hidden histories. The project will close out at a live event in Washington, D.C. on Martin Luther King Day 2017. I hope that, like Kaphar’s artwork, the event will create space to see past the dominant narrative. It is time for us to come together and reflect about the past and build for what’s to come.

Kaphar

Titus Kaphar, Behind the Myth of Benevolence, 2014, oil on canvas, 59 x 34 x 6 inches

ABOUT THE ARTIST

TITUS KAPHAR was born in 1976 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He currently lives and works between New York and Connecticut. His artworks interact with the history of art by appropriating its styles and mediums.

Kaphar said of his work: “I’ve always been fascinated by history: art history, American history, world history, individual history – how history is written, recorded, distorted, exploited, reimagined, and understood.  In my work I explore the materiality of reconstructive history.  I paint and I sculpt, often borrowing from the historical canon, and then alter the work in some way.  I cut, crumple, shroud, shred, stitch, tar, twist, bind, erase, break, tear, and turn the paintings and sculptures I create, reconfiguring them into works that nod to hidden narratives and begin to reveal unspoken truths about the nature of history.  Open areas become active absences, walls enter into the portraits, stretcher bars are exposed, and structures that are typically invisible underneath, behind, or inside the canvas are laid bare, revealing the interiors of the work.  In so doing, my aim is to perform what I critique, to reveal something of what has been lost, and to investigate the power of a rewritten history.”

In a 2009 review in Art in America, Michele Carlson wrote, “Kaphar’s practice is more than a modernist revision or a redux of the dichotomy between painter and painting. Instead, he creates new historiographic artifacts built from the physical residues and inadequacies of the past. There is a sense these works are a deeply personal response to imagined memories turned into unrecognizable histories long ago.  Perhaps they are a nod to collective histories yet to be discovered, or a reconciliation for those that never will.”

Kaphar received an MFA from the Yale School of Art, and is the distinguished recipient of the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship. His work has been included in solo and group exhibitions at Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA, the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY and the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA. His work is included in the collections of the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT, the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY.  In late 2014, TIME magazine commissioned Kaphar to create an artwork in response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Kaphar’s ambitious installation, The Vesper Project, will go on tour through 2016 to venues including the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Arts, Cincinnati, OH, and the Katzen Arts Center at American University, Washington, DC.

The Vesper Project  “is a culmination of an intense five-year engagement with the lost storylines of the Vesper family, the project was ‘birthed in a state of extended disbelief, according to Kaphar. As the artist’s muses, the members of the Vesper family and their histories are intertwined with Kaphar’s autobiographical details, and layered with wide-based cultural triggers of identity and truth in the context of historical accounting.” (Artinfo.com, 2013)

Jack Shainman Gallery has represented Kaphar since 2014. His most recent two-part solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery was in early 2015 (see links below).  Titus’s next two-part solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery opens December 16, 2016 and runs through January 28, 2017.

http://www.jackshainman.com/artists/titus-kaphar/

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Creative Commons License
For the 44th on 4 January 2017 by M. Liz Andrews, Titus Kaphar, Jack Shainman Gallery is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.jackshainman.com/artists/titus-kaphar/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.LetterToObama.com.
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Stand up, stand up for your rights…

December 4, 2016

In 2008 Obama’s image became a symbol for a movement of people working for a more just and equal democracy. Many of us saw in Obama potential for the nation to live up its promises. Obama became an American icon before he became President of the United States of America. At this strange moment in time – Obama is in office and Trump is elected to succeed him – it is important to consider the roles images have played in presidential politics. In this, the penultimate issue of For the 44th on the 4th, I present some images I took on my phone in Los Angeles, California just before and after the 2016 election. All four are images of street posts – advertisements and political art – that include the likenesses of political giants of the moment.

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Barack and Michelle Obama image, Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 2016

The first is one in a series of images posted as advertisements for the social media application Twitter. It shows President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama before a crowd. Barack’s hair is silver and Michelle’s is laid; it is a sentimental sight for some as we near the end of his presidency. The street ad is instantly iconic because it is a photographic image of a couple we, as voters and viewers, have come to recognize so well. To the left of Obama’s raised right hand, perhaps waving goodbye, sits the hashtag (“#”) symbol. Now a technology that permeates numerous social media platforms such as the image and video app Instagram, hashtag technology was originated by Twitter and was a powerful tool of the 2008 Obama campaign – especially among young people. In this late 2016 advertisement, rather than hashtagging a word or phrase comprised of characters, the ad claims the power of the hashtag to encompass all the things that are communicated and captured in the image of #POTUS and #FLOTUS. The hashtag is envisioned to document, and perhaps create, not just single subjects, but emotions, moments, and icons.

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Bernie Sanders coffee shop, Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 2016

The second photo was taken across the street from a long-closed diner on Museum Row that was converted into a large and colorful visual statement in support of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. The Senator is depicted in a powerful light – with his left hand raised as if in the middle of an address and he is surrounded by bright colors that appear to emanate from him. If you walk right up to the restaurant-turned-site-for-artistic-and-political-expression, there are signs in the windows with propaganda for Sanders as well as Jill Stein and in opposition to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Even now, nearly a month after the general election took place, the Bernie Sanders restaurant on Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard is a visual representation of the hopes many people placed in the Bernie Sanders campaign, as well as the continued frustration and outrage of many at the results of the Democratic primary and the general election.

Clinton and Trump images, Los Angeles, Nov. 5, 2016

Clinton and Trump images, Los Angeles, Nov. 5, 2016

The third image is another large Twitter advertisement poster, this one depicting the eyes of Clinton on the left and Trump on the right. The eyes of both figures are easily recognizable, even without their full face visible – a testament to the ubiquitous nature of images of the candidates during the 2016 election. As with the Obama image, the eyes of each figure serve as a hashtagged subject. To this viewer, the images of Clinton and Trump are full of meaning – there is something conniving in the eyes of both. Perhaps this is meant to convey a distrust for both candidates. This reflects the reality of the deep divisions that surfaced in the Democratic party and beyond during the primary stand-off between Sanders and Clinton.

Sanders may have been the most logical political successor. Clinton became the nominee of 44th President’s party. But Trump was the biggest icon of the campaign.

Anti-Trump image, Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 2016

Trump image, Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 2016

The fourth photo is of a poster across the street diagonally from the Bernie restaurant with a stenciled portrait of Trump with the word “Disobey” written underneath it. The image is in visual and textual conversation with the iconic “hope” image of Obama – a poster created by Los Angeles artist Shepard Fairey that became the most recognizable and powerful image of the 2008 election. Most of Fairey’s career has been characterized by art made in protest of capitalist and imperialist policies and figures, and is recognizable by his signature word and brand “Obey.” The posters of Trump were meant to encourage voters to disobey, not Trump, but figures such as Sanders, Clinton and Obama. It is meant to encourage the viewer to think of voting for Trump as a way to “disobey” the leftist political establishment. As we near inauguration day, the image has a very different meaning for people who oppose the values and policies Trump and his campaign set forth during the election. Rather than a call to support Trump, it can be reimagined as encouragement to stand up for our rights at every turn. For those of us who believe in justice, it is time to gather together our tools, including the power of the image.
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They say you gotta let it go…

November 4, 2016

This month, I present a collaborative piece of art that I took part in making. The piece is based on artist Zoe Leonard’s 1992 piece, I want a president, which famously begins, “I want a dyke for president.” Leonard created it in the moment of the 1992 election in the United States as a piece of protest art. I took part in a process of collectively re-writing the piece for the 2016 election with artists, native Washingtonians in DC, and fabulous facilitators all interested in socially-engaged art. I had the privilege of working with Holly Bass and we were excited to be assigned the line where some works have a strike through them. Along with Omolara, we crafted lines we loved.

I  participated in the collaborative process, yet the vision of the whole is different. In the end, it was a thought-provoking experience in arts politics that mirrors the way I understand my position in the 2016 U.S. election. I must vote. There is no question about that. As someone who has thought about and studied the 2008 election for years, this presidential race is a real problem. As a participant in democracy, I cast my vote with a partial heart.

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October 4, 2016

SAVE THE DATE

LetterToObama: Live From Washington

A finale event.

4 Jan. 17  |  4PM

CORRECTION:

JANUARY, 16, 2017

MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY

 

 

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Saying, this is my message to you…

September 4, 2016

This issue of the Fo(u)r 4 features photographs of moments from the 2008 Obama campaign and election in the New York City area by photojournalist Terrence Jennings. The first four images are at a 2007 rally in Washington Square Park and document the style Obama brought to the stage as well as the multicultural supporters there to see him speak. The next four photos are from the New Jersey Izod Center in 2008 and make visible Obama’s iconic likeness, the large crowd, and the political giants who enlisted in the Obama campaign. Finally, Jennings provides a glimpse into the moments before and after Obama was elected 44th President of the United States on 125th Street in Harlem, a center of black history and culture. Taken together, they are a reminder of the Obama ’08 movement.
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PHOTOS OF OBAMA ’08

TERRENCE JENNINGS

Washington Square Park, NYC

GQ Stroll

Barack Obama rallies New York City at Washington Square Park

 

Arch

Barack Obama rallies New York City at Washington Square Park

 

Address

Barack Obama rallies New York City at Washington Square Park

 

Reach Out

Barack Obama rallies New York at Washington Square Park

Izod Center, New Jersey

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at The Izod Center at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, February 4, 2008

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at the Izod Center at Meadowlands, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

 

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at The Izod Center at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, February 4, 2008

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at the Izod Center at Meadowlands, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at the Izod Center at Meadowlands, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

 

Kennedy Crowd

Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Barack Obama and daughter of President Kennedy Caroline Kennedy in front of crowd at Obama Rally, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

 

The People at Presidental Candidate Barack Obama Rally at The Izod Center at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, February 4, 2008

People at Obama Rally, Meadowlands, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

Election Night, Harlem, NY

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

 

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

 

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

 

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect, making him the first African-American President in the 225-year history of the nation.

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect.

 

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect, making him the first African-American President in the 225-year history of the nation.

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect.

 

Tear

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect.

 

Barack Michelle Screen

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect.

 

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect, making him the first African-American President in the 225-year history of the nation.

ABOUT THE ARTIST
Photographer TERRENCE JENNINGS was born on the planet of Brooklyn. He began professionally photographing in 1999 and since, his images have appeared in such publications as People Magazine, The New York Times, Vibe Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine, Uptown Magazine, Trace Magazine, Hip Hop Weekly, The Source Magazine, Savoy Magazine, BET.com, The London Observer, The Amsterdam News, The Village Voice and several others. In addition, his writings and photographs have appeared in several photo art books by Deborah Willis such as Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present, Black: A Celebration of our Culture, and Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs (Deborah Willis and Kevin Merida), A Time Before Crack by Jamel Shabazz, and In Our Own Image by Karen Pughes & Patrick Bass. In 2005, he became a founding Photographer for Nubuzzphoto.com, a digital wire service founded by celebrity photographer Johnny Nunez. Jennings’ media coverage has been syndicated by several international photo agencies and his partial client list includes The Smithsonian African American Musuem of History & Culture, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The National Urban League, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Harper Collins Publishing, Black Smith Music, MOS DEF-Good Tree Media, The Jamel Shabazz Photographic Group, the Root, Common, Dave Chappelle Productions, FilmLife, The Uniworld Group, The HipHop Summit Action Network, The Urban World Film Festival & The Harlem Book Fair/QBR. His Images are currently represented by Polaris Images. He lives to photograph in Brooklyn as a Freelance Photographer with a passport.
http://www.TerrenceJennings.com
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Water no get enemy…

August 4, 2016

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In this issue of the Fo(u)r 4, LetterToObama features three images by visual artist Aniekan Udofia. Best known for his large and iconic murals seen across Washington, D.C., in 2008 Udofia used his artistic practice to highlight social dynamics he saw coming to the surface during the historic Obama campaign. During Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, Udofia had a solo show featuring original paintings inspired by the election, and the majority of the works in that show sold to people who attended the one-day exhibition. However, there were three images that did not sell – these are those images. While most of the portraits Udofia made about Obama were in celebration, these works contain elements of critique.

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(SELECTION OF UNSOLD WORKS)

ANIEKAN UDOFIA

UdofiaKid

In the first image, a young boy sports a tank top with the stars and bars of the flag for the District of Columbia. He looks up to the the iconic face of Obama and his gaze is skeptical yet somehow hopeful. He holds a hand-written sign and his needs are basic: “Food, Shelter, Clothing.” Udofia compels this viewer, a resident of the nation’s capital, to consider: what does the symbolic victory of Obama’s election mean for children in D.C. who do not have their basic needs met? And, what exists in the literal space between the first black president and the struggling residents of the Washington, D.C., the center of power? For the viewer of this 2008 piece looking in 2016,  the boy’s blackness brings up questions about what Obama’s presidency means for black people at a time when the value of black life is something that is often declared and often violated. I can see why, thinking back to the jubilation surrounding Obama’s election, this was likely a heavy message to receive. This was one of the pieces that did not sell.

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UdofiaObamaFan

This piece didn’t find a buyer either. In it, Udofia centers a grotesque depiction of a painfully white and extremely enthusiastic Obama supporter. Udofia brings to life a caricature of whiteness… as seen through several black gazes. The body of the white figure is exposed in unflattering red and blue clothing. She holds a flag and wears an abundance of Obama paraphernalia in the form of buttons with messages that ask the reader to think about the narrative of racial healing that was hidden at the core of Obama’s election in 2008. Notably, one reads “Obama is half white!” The woman is surrounded by a vibrant yellow that exaggerates her blonde hair and light skin as well as her expression of total enjoyment. The black people surrounding her look up and respond with skepticism, wonder, laughter, and disgust. One young person even documents the absurdity of it all with a smartphone; a new and powerful technology in 2008.

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UdofiaFela

The last piece left behind is this one. This portrait includes a quotation by a man who has himself been referred to as “black president” – Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. The image of Obama in the left bottom corner of the image is rendered in blue and red – putting it in visual conversation with Shepard Fairey’s iconic 2008 red, white and blue “Hope” portrait of Obama. Obama’s gaze looks forward with purpose, embodying the message that sits above his head – the need for a singular and capable government that is “straight and progressive, clean.” If the previous image asks us to think about American whiteness, this image depicts Obama in a iconic and presidential manner through the words of an African icon. It reminds me of the complexity of Obama’s pedigree, and the ways his life, as narrated during the 2008 campaign, was told as a uniquely American tale.

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ABOUT THE ARTIST

UdofiaANIEKAN UDOFIA has achieved local notoriety for his towering murals of Duke Ellington, Fredrick Douglas and George Washington in Washington, D.C. as well as his solo and group live paintings at events in the nation’s capital sponsored by the likes of Red Bull, Heineken, Honda, Current TV, Timberland and Adidas. He garnered national attention with his caricatures and photorealistic illustrations for urban publications XXL, Vibe, Rime, Elemental, DC Pulse, Frank 151 and The Source. He further entrenched himself within the visual vernacular of the hip-hop landscape with designs for urban athletic wear companies And 1 and the D.C.-based Native Tongue.

http://www.aniekanudofia.com

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Creative Commons License
For the 44th on August 4, 2016 by M. Liz Andrews, Aniekan Udofia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.LetterToObama.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.LetterToObama.com.
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