Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mpagi Sepuya (b. 1982, San Bernardino, USA) is a photographer and visual artist who lives and works in Los Angeles. Emerging within the queer zine scene of the 2000s, his work, often collaged and sculpture-based portraits, highlights the intimacy of photography while deconstructing and posing questions about the social function of the medium. Sepuya’s practice explores representation and embodiment, as well as the production of portraiture and the artist’s studio as a potential site of homoerotic social relations. His work has been exhibited widely and is held in numerous internationally renowned collections.

A conversation around pictures (0X5A0816) (2019)
Darkroom Mirror Study (2110114) (2018)
Mirror Study (0X5A1948) (2019)
Studio (0X5A0173) (2017)
Darkroom Mirror diptych (0X5A4336 and 1150028) (2019)
In Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photography the relationship between subject and artist is closely explored. We are urged to question who is viewing who – and how – in the eroticisation of other, especially black and queer bodies. With the use of mirrors and the inclusion of visible cameras and iPhones, the images appear theatrical and reminiscent of collage. His works have been referred to as “digital cruising spaces”, in which male bodies are intertwined, and photographic lenses, mirrors, and other effects create confusion but not disembodiment. Often compared with the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Sepuya refers to his photographs as inspired by early “conversation pieces”, a form of painting popularised during the Enlightenment (in the 1720s and onwards) that staged “informal” group portraits or depicted scientific studies. Often at least one of the depicted subjects breaks “the fourth wall” to look out of the painting and directly at the viewer, implicating us in the closed circuit of subjective gazes any work of art entails.

An installation photo of Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photographs with Cian Dayrit’s mentioned artwork in the background.
Photo: MOMENTUM. Courtesy of the practitioners.