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Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Self Portrait, June 3, 2011. From the series Studio Work, 2010-2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Studio Work, 2010-2011

Having dedicated himself to the act of portrait making, Paul Mpagi Sepuya has positioned his practice at the epicenter of a queer renaissance that quickly overtook the digital realm. Grounded in the history of queer zines and a self-publishing ethos, Sepuya has used his camera as a tool to record his community and the relationships, both platonic and romantic, from where it has sprung. Shooting on film, from 2004 to 2010, the artist has always considered his work in the real world but takes advantage of user-driven digital media sources for cataloguing and promotion. In 2010 Sepuya was invited to be artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, at which point he began incorporating digital photography as an elemental part of his work, in order to be able to shoot and print in the same space. It was in concert with new immediacy that he began Studio Work, a project that took the form of an artist book, and also a series of exhibitions.

With Studio Work, Sepuya further embraces his materials and blurs the site of production by bringing it into the gallery space. The tabletop installation is yet another way Sepuya has been able to marry his concept with presentation in order to offer a view of how he thinks of his practice: in flux, laid bare, messy, inquisitive. Though the archive of source material and photographic production is closed, he incorporates new ways of editing, approaches to display, and working with the material based on previous installation and even his current work or the materials he is dealing with elsewhere.

As an exhibition and book Studio Work is about intimacy and the creative process. It is an investigation of the translation from the environment in which an artist makes his work, to the gallery where it is exhibited. Beyond the fact that there are clothed and nude portraits, self-portraits as well as those of friends,; beyond the fact that there are photographs of the artist’s favorite passages of Woolf, among others, we see the whole. Sepuya shows us the forest for the trees.

Adapted from a text by artist, curator, and writer Kegan McFadden, Winnipeg, Canada


Paul Mpagi Sepuya was born in San Bernardino, CA in 1982. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, having recently relocated from Brooklyn, NY, where he was based from 2000 – 2014.

Sepuya has been an artist-in-residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Residency (2009-2010); the Center for Photography at Woodstock (2010); the Studio Museum in Harlem (2010-2011); Fire Island Artist Residency (2013); and most recently at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago (2014). His most recent artist publication, STUDIO WORK, was self-published in 2012 and the related body of work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City; the Center for Photography at Woodstock, NY; Franklin Art Works, Minneapolis; and Artspeak, Vancouver. Sepuya’s work is in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum; the Studio Museum in Harlem; and the Center for Photography at Woodstock. His print zine series SHOOT (2005 – 2008) is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum Library; the Museum of Modern Art Library, New York; and the Fotomuseum Winterthur.

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