In his Shut Up and Paint documentary review, SHIFTER editor Kevin Bourne says viewers will “learn, think, be challenged, and at times smile”.
At SHIFTER, we recently stumbled onto Shut Up and Paint, a documentary about the pressures Black artists face to silence their voice and message in order to sell their art. Released in December 2022, it follows artist and filmmaker Titus Kaphar, who directs and produces the film alongside Alex Mallis. Kaphar is a self-taught painter who learned the craft by going to museums and taking in white-centric art. Now turning that same imagery one its head, he struggles to find museums interested in purchasing his work because of the strength of his message.
“I’m making paintings about white supremacy and those institutions that facilitate white supremacy are saying, ‘If you just didn’t talk so loud about that and not say the things that it’s actually about, not say the things that actually motivate you to make what you make, then we would accept what you do.'”
Now he must decide whether he will hold to his principles or shut up and paint.
He then finds himself having an identity crisis of sorts when white institutions finally come calling. He initially created his work for Black people who could relate to the sufferings depicted in his art.
“The conversations that Black artists have been having is that these things we make exist in white spaces, in white people’s houses, and they become separate from us, and disconnected from us, and in a way that doesn’t feel just.”
As Yale University Professor of Philosophy, Jason Stanley, jokingly notes in the film, Kaphar’s work has become “Non-Fungible Tokens for billionaires” adding to his crisis and forcing him to rethink his art.
His identity crisis is exacerbated when one of his pieces sells for $3.5 million HK after it was anticipated to sell for far less than that. This leads him to ask, “Is what I do worth that?”, especially with his family still living in the neighbourhood he grew up in.
This leads to his foray into film which provides a backdrop for the documentary. Kaphar sees film as an accessible democratization of his work in light of his artistic success.
“The more successful I become, the less access my folks have to my work.”
The documentary explores themes of historical and present injustice, race issues, and economic disparity asking, “How can you put money in the hands of those who don’t have it?” It provides insight into a different front on which the battle of activism and justice is being fought and is interspersed with poetry and drama which aid in delivering the message and narrative of the film.
Overall, this is a film you will want to watch and revisit. You will learn, think, be challenged, and at times smile. This film is essential for artists, activists, collectors, lovers of Black art, and those looking to better understand the Black experience. It clearly lays out the problem of economic disparity in the modern art world while leaving the solution (if there is one) to the viewer.
To watch Shut Up and Paint click here or visit the header image above.