The Vesper Project

 

The Story

 

While staring at a painting by artist Titus Kaphar at the Yale Art Gallery, a man named Benjamin Vesper experienced a psychotic break and attacked one of the figures in the painting. Vesper was arrested and subsequently admitted to the Connecticut Valley Hospital where his full identity and background remained a mystery. During the course of his sessions with a psychologist, Vesper began to reveal details about himself and his family’s troubled history. Vesper remained secretive about the letters and documents he wrote to Kaphar.
In 2008, Vesper wandered off the hospital grounds, and was found squatting in a 19th century house that he insisted belonged to his family. In fact, the original Vesper home had burned down in the early 1900s. It seems Mr. Vesper needed such a space to return to, in order to engage with his own memory. It was this event that inspired “The Vesper Project” installation at Friedman Benda gallery.

This exhibition includes art works inspired by the patient’s frequent correspondence with Kaphar.

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360° Vesper Panorama Tour

In Collaboration With Sam Rohn

View the 360° Panoramic Virtual Tour of Titus Kaphar‘s Vesper Project at Friedman Benda Gallery in New York City. This panoramic tour was photographed by our friend Sam Rohn. An amazing piece of work we recommend you experience for yourself.


View Panorama

 

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A 19th century family who are able to “pass” as a white family in New England although their mixed heritage makes them “Negro” in the eyes of the law.

-Titus Kaphar
From this verbal and pictorial dialogue emerges the story of a 19th century family who are able to “pass” as a white family in New England although their mixed heritage makes them “Negro” in the eyes of the law. The father, Captain Abram Vesper, is a former Brazilian slave whose entrepreneurial spirit brings him increasing success in Europe and Reconstruction-era America as a navigator, merchant, and eventual owner of a small shipping company. Having lost his only son under tragic wartime circumstances, Vesper’s hope of establishing any kind of legacy lies in his three fair-skinned daughters, the youngest of whom has come of age just in time to marry the son of a prominent shipping magnate.
But before their engagement is finalized, Vesper’s daughter becomes pregnant, extinguishing any hope of a financial merger. As their public image unravels, the Vesper family’s racial secret is also made public. What follows is a predictable downward spiral of violence that destroys everything Vesper had accomplished in hopes of immortalizing his family name.

 

The Vesper Project Film

Film Cinematography By Horacio Marquinez

 

 


The Vesper Family Tree

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Photographs

 

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Installation Photographs

 

 

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Film Credits​

Kwamena Blankson – Writer

When I started this project, I knew that I wanted to somehow record these narratives that kept running through my head. I had a long conversation with a mental health advocate and fiction writer named Kwamena Blankson. Kwamena spends most of his days in a mental hospital, advocating on behalf of patients. In our conversations, we discovered that we both “heard” the voices of characters in similar ways – me with the people in my paintings, Kwamena with the characters in his writing. I told him about the Vespers, and that conversation was the birth of the project. We would talk over the phone, and I would tell him what I had heard, and sometime later, he would transform these conversations into written narratives and poems. The Vesper Project includes many pieces of writing – after the masterful editing of Stella Maria Baer, we’ve attempted to tell the story of this family’s life through seven documents. Ultimately, I think this will be a book, where we will include more documents and spend more time with the historical nuances in the narrative.

Stella Maria Baer – Editor and Studio Assistant

Rick Lacey – Studio Assistant

Horacio Marquinez – Film Cinematography

Luke Hanscom – Photography

Mena Henry – Project managing and architectural assistance

Seth Reese – Wrote and performed music for the film

Phyllis Anscombe – Read poetry in the film

I would also like to thank all the folks at Friedman Benda.