Paul Mpagi Sepuya engages with the long history of photography through his ongoing deconstruction of traditional portraiture. Using collage, layering, and the placement of mirrors, Sepuya challenges us to consider the construction of identity, both in photography and in our lives. He photographs friends, artists, and collaborators. Early in his career these portrait sessions took place in his Brooklyn apartment bedroom and later in a more conventional studio space, maintaining a sense of intimacy throughout the images. Sepuya thinks of these photographs as a continuation of ongoing social relationships played out in the studio, with the studio setting contributing a central role to the construction of the imagery. Making the photographs is a physical process, moving between analog and digital, shifting from the taking of a photo, then printing and adding additional background fragments to studio walls and mirrors, staging and re-staging the photo apparatus and the sitters. The final product are photographs that are embedded with traces of Sepuya’s own identity and personality, leaving the viewer to discern what is “real” and what is constructed. This exhibition assembles more than a decade of Sepuya’s practice, inviting viewers to make their own connections between the bodies of work.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya is organized for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis by Wassan Al-Khudhairi, Chief Curator, with Misa Jeffereis, Assistant Curator.