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Is an Oscar in the cards for New Haven, Connecticut, artist Titus Kaphar?

Titus Kaphar whitewashes a painting in SHUT UP AND PAINT
Bret Hartman
Titus Kaphar whitewashes a painting in "Shut up and Paint."

In the documentary “Shut up and Paint”, artist Titus Kaphar is talking with his longtime friend, Yale professor Jason Stanley, about his paintings, which are fetching astronomical prices at auction. Kaphar admits to Stanley that his work, which often confronts American history and Black people’s complicated experience with it, was intended for people who had gone through similar experiences. Stanley muses, “It’s funny, because your art has become non-fungible tokens [NFTs] for billionaires.” Indeed, a few scenes later, Kaphar watches online as one of his previously sold paintings is being auctioned off at well above $1 million.

It’s just one of the dichotomies Kaphar wrestles with in “Shut up and Paint.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has shortlisted it, along with 14 others, in the Documentary Short Film category.

Kaphar’s documentary opens with a phone conversation with an unidentified gallery owner, who thinks curators are shying away from his work, not because of the quality of his paintings but the messaging behind them.

Kaphar asks the gallery owner, “You feel that some curators are distracted, or even disturbed by the conversations around the content of the work, and therefore they are unable to see the form in the work?” The gallery owner responds, “Yes.”

Kaphar said he decided to do the documentary as a way to reach the people who live in his section of New Haven, the Dixwell Avenue neighborhood, who may not be inclined to go to an art gallery and view his work.

“As much as I love the fact that my work is at the Metropolitan [Museum of Art in New York City], my folks are not going to the Metropolitan,” said Kaphar. “But they are engaging with the medium of film, they are engaging with television, and if I want to have the conversation with my folks, the community I live in, the community I come from, then it seems to me I might have to experiment with some other mediums to have those conversations.”

Being on the official Academy Awards ‘shortlist’ is one step toward winning the honor. It is from this shortlist that nominations are ultimately announced. Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.