Artist Titus Kaphar has created a new painting for TIME magazine’s latest issue, “Special Report: Speak Their Names.” The poignant image and issue were conceived as a response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests across the US and President Donald Trump’s response to the demonstrations.
“Analogous Colors” depicts an African American mother with an anguished expression, cradling her young child with one gloved hand as a reference to the coronavirus pandemic. But her child no longer exists in her arms, instead there is only a blank silhouette.
“In her expression, I see the black mothers who are unseen, and rendered helpless in this fury against their babies,” described the 44-year-old artist. “I want to be sure that she is seen. I want to be certain that her story is told. And so this time, America must hear her voice.”
By cutting away the canvas from his oil painting, Kaphar symbolised the loss felt by mothers to racial injustice. The artist also referenced the final few words of George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose killing by a Minneapolis police officer sparked the recent protests. Floyd, 46, called out for his “Mamma!” whilst he was held down by the officer for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
For the first time, the magazine’s iconic red border has been adapted too with the names of 35 black people who were killed due to systemic racism. The Creative Director at TIME, D.W Pine, explained that “their names are merely a fraction of the many more who have lost their lives because of the racist violence that has been part of this nation from its start.
The names are Trayvon Martin, Yvette Smith, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Jerame Reid, Natasha McKenna, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, William Chapman, Sandra Bland, Darrius Stewart, Samuel DuBose, Janet Wilson, Calin Roquemore, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Joseph Mann, Terence Crutcher, Chad Robertson, Jordan Edwards, Aaron Bailey, Stephon Clark, Danny Ray Thomas, Antwon Rose, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Dean, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.”
Accompanying the issue is a poem written by Kaphar, called “I Cannot Sell You This Painting”, in which he poses the question: “Are black and loss / analogous colors in America?”
Kaphar is a renowned painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and installation artist who confronts historical narratives by dismantling and subverting Western artistic tropes. The thought-provoking cover artwork is typical of Kaphar’s practice, which often includes bold techniques and materials such as cutting or applying tar to the painting’s surface.
Speaking about his own experiences, Kaphar asked: “how do I explain to my children that the very system set up to protect others could be a threat to our existence? How do I shield them from the psychological impact of knowing that for the rest of our lives we will likely be seen as a threat?”
But some have criticised the cover for its lack of inclusion of transgender victims. Writer Kimberly Drew highlighted on Twitter that the name of Tony McDade, the black transgender man who was killed by Tallahassee police on May 27, was not on the cover.
TIME’S special report issue featuring Kaphar’s painting will officially be available from 5th June.