A Possible Alternative to Tearing Down Statues

Beyond the Myth of Benevolence” 2014 painting by Titus KapharThis painting by Titus Kaphar has been haunting me since I read that New York City council members are asking for the statue of Thomas Jefferson which stands outside their city hall to be removed.  Thomas Jefferson became the President of the United States in 1800.  He wrote the American Declaration of Independence and doubled the size of the country by negotiating the Louisiana Purchase.  

He was also a slave owner and in Kaphar’s painting called Beyond The Myth of Benevolence a traditional portrait of Jefferson is peeled back to show Sally Hemmings, one of his slaves with whom he began a sexual relationship when she was just fourteen.  He fathered her six children.

thomas jefferson city hall new york

This image on the Twitter feed of The New York Post shows the city council meeting with the statue of Thomas Jefferson pointed out and highlighted

In an interview,  Titus Kaphar said he was inspired to make the painting after he heard an American history teacher try to mitigate the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner by saying he was a benevolent slave owner.  Because Jefferson treated his slaves kindly he shouldn’t be judged too harshly for owning other human beings. 

photos of Titus Kaphar from the MacArthur Foundation

Photo of Titus Kaphar from the MacArthur Foundation

Titus Kaphar says he is not against taking down statues of slave owners but he wonders if another solution could be creating works of art that tell a different story and displaying them in juxtaposition to initiate conversation.  

Why not hire a contemporary artist to make another sculpture of Thomas Jefferson of equal size and display it right next to the current one? Like Kaphar’s work, it could honestly depict the fact that Jefferson was a slave owner.

Our view of history is always changing and as it does our public art needs to reflect that change. Kaphar’s suggestion would make that change visible and certainly would precipitate plenty of discussion.  

Check here to see Titus Kaphar’s recent Time Magazine cover and his reflection about it. 

Other posts………

Old Sun and Emily Carr

A Man Affectionately Deplored By His Wife

A Different Kind of Nativity Scene


1 Comment

Filed under Art, Politics

One response to “A Possible Alternative to Tearing Down Statues

  1. gabriele goldstone

    There is just so much to say about the braiding together of art, politics and history. Excellent post to encourage further conversation.


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