Paul Mpagi Sepuya is an American photographer whose works deconstruct viewers’ expectations of the nude and self-portrait in art, and meditate on the fragmentation of queer and photographed bodies. His goal is for “queer, black photographs to exist within historic and contemporary conversations about photography as a whole, affirming the medium and my personal investment in its possible futures.”

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Screen (0X5A8295), archival pigment print, 2019. Purchased with funds from the Ellingson Family.

Manipulating perspective using mirrors, drapery, and collage, Sepuya complicates subjective relationships within the image. Rather than attempting to capture the complexity of relationships, Sepuya’s work purposely obscures and opens their intimacy for viewers in ways that “end up transforming us in unanticipated ways, and producing another set of relations.” In Screen 0X5A8295, for example, the outward facing direction of the camera positions the viewer not only as a participant, but as the subject of the work. The white draped background functions as a kind of mirror through which the viewer can imagine her or himself as the object of study. By doing so, the work becomes less about a documentation of a static subject, but more about the dynamic relationships that evolve through the interaction of photography. This can also be seen in several of Sepuya’s other works in which the subjects hold additional cameras or iPhone in ways that capture the act of photography rather than the final image itself.

The fluidity of the relationships within Sepuya’s work also relates to his interest in representation of queer identities. Within the erotic, queer spaces he creates, Sepuya explores the tension between evasive lust and ambiguous sensuality. Sepuya describes how the the inspiration for all of his work “is the entanglement of friendship and desire, and the openness to the complexities of that in queer friendships… [where] I am thinking about friendship and love in blackness, and the complications and complexity of navigating that in white-dominated spaces… [My] work is about re-affirming that connection.”

We invite you to explore all the works in the Escalette Collection by visiting our eMuseum

Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences is the proud home of the Phyllis and Ross Escalette Permanent Collection of Art. The Escalette Collection exists to inspire critical thinking, foster interdisciplinary discovery, and strengthen bonds with the community. Beyond its role in curating art in public spaces, the Escalette is a learning laboratory that offers diverse opportunities for student and engagement and research, and involvement with the wider community. The collection is free and open to the public to view.