Titus Kaphar mines art history as a means of understanding racism and social injustice. In 2011, his research took a personal turn when searching for the prison records of his estranged father. He was surprised to find ninety-nine mugshots of different Black men with his father’s name, Jerome. That multiplicity fueled a critical examination of the overrepresentation of Black men in the US prison system, who at that moment were incarcerated at roughly seven times the rate of White men.

Taking cues from Byzantine icons, Kaphar created gilded portraits of the Jerome mugshots, then partially covered each in tar. The contrasting materials foreground notions of prominence and erasure. Gilding marks the men as subjects of attention, while the tar obscures their faces and alludes to the invisibility of individuals within the prison system. Never fully erased, these gilded images function as devotionals dedicated to considering lives we might otherwise deem unworthy.