Digital Wondering 19

Digital Wonderings are a series of online speculations around the curatorial theme of TRUST. They can take any form, from a conversation, a short statement, a film or a photographic series. Invited contributors come from a wide range of disciplines and can respond and react to the theme and the format as they wish.

Artist Portrait: Paul Mpagi Sepuya (USA)

Paul Mpagi Sepuya centers reflexivity and collaboration in his practice, creating photographs that emphasize the relationship and trust built between artist, subject, camera, and image. Around the time his ‘Dark Room’-series was first exhibited in 2017, Sepuya described his practice as the making of photographs, books and installations rooted in portraiture, homoerotic visual culture and the function of the studio: „Portraiture is the foundation of my practice. The subjects appearing in my work are a cast of friends, intimates and muses. They are founded in ongoing relationships mediated by the making and production of photographs.“ Living in Brooklyn in 2004, Sepuya began photographing a growing community of new acquaintances against the minimal yet charged backdrop of an intimate portrait-studio-meets-bedroom set-up. In these early works, the making of the portrait itself is bound up in the un-fixed relationship between photographer and subject; the „backstage“ of the site of portraiture; and the circulation of the images in Sepuya’s self-published zine series ‘SHOOT’. 


Across these foundational early works, Sepuya is both making the images of Queer community he wanted to see – a casual, shared intimacy radiating notions of friendship, generosity, romance and creativity – and deconstructing the making of portraiture, the moving of subjectivity and identifying how images are made, seen, and circulate. Most of the subjects in these portraits have continued to appear across Sepuya’s work, re-emerging as subjects and collaborators in the ‘Studio Work’ and ‘Dark Room’ projects, and other bodies of works up to the present. Alongside one another in this presentation, the zines and images bring together and embrace the contradictions that photographic production generates: in its accelerated gratification of desire and simultaneous displacement of its subjects by the resulting image-objects.


For TRUST, we will be exhibiting a small collection of the artist’s early portraits and zines loaned from a friend and early supporter in Berlin. The private collection shows how Sepuya’s early works were first made and circulated, and establishes an origin point for ongoing conditions and themes still central to his practice. As the collector tells us, after seeing Sepuya’s work online he invited himself over for a studio visit. First they met at his hotel to look at prints: ‘He came all the way from Brooklyn, in the rain. Ten minutes later we were sitting on my bed, our hands full 11×14 inch prints. We discussed, shared stories, selected some. This is how I got my first prints.’ The collector then visited Sepuya in his studio: ‘His studio back then was his bedroom in his shared Brooklyn house. He created a situation that made me comfortable to join a very intimate situation.’ This became the beginning of an inspiring journey. ‘Whenever I was in New York, I reached out. Whenever he came to Berlin, we hung out together. And this continues until today. Paul’s pictures introduced me to wonderful individuals, some that I have been in touch with for almost 20 years. Some I have never met, but because their portraits are in my Berlin apartment, I kind of know them. Jay, Amir or Darren are beautiful people.’



Paul Mpagi Sepuya is a Los Angeles-based artist working in photography and an Associate Professor at UC San Diego. Recent exhibitions include a solo at Vielmetter Los Angeles, a survey of work at CAM St. Louis, and a project for the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Sepuya’s work will be featured in the 7th Athens Biennale, and is included in the group exhibition „Masculinities“ which is traveling widely across Europe.