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Kaphar, The Cost of Removal
- Portraits often represent leaders as heroic, noble, and deserving of respect and admiration. Such images, however, fashion an incomplete historical narrative that may not acknowledge the problematic or even violent aspects of their legacies.
- Signed by Andrew Jackson in 1830, the Indian Removal Act authorized the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. Native Americans were forcibly removed by the U.S. government, including 4,000 Cherokee Indians who died on what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”
- Copying and altering Ralph Earl’s 1836 portrait of Andrew Jackson is one way that Titus Kaphar calls our attention to the power of art and museums in writing a history that is, in his words, “at best incomplete, and at worst fiction.” The viewer is reminded of who is typically included in this telling of history and who is typically excluded.
Learn more about this work from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
See primary sources at the Library of Congress related to the Indian Removal Act of 1830
Learn about the removal of Cherokee and other Indian tribes as part of the Trail of Tears
Watch Titus Kaphar’s 2017 TED Talk, “Can art amend history?” and his interview for the 2018 MacArthur Fellowship
Read a 2015 interview with Kaphar
See online resources and exhibitions at The Hermitage (Andrew Jackson’s home, now a museum)
Learn about Andrew Jackson’s presidency through primary source documents
More to think about
Read the comment below by Titus Kaphar, which was quoted in the video. Based on your own experience and academic study, do you agree that our understanding of history is inherently incomplete or idealized? What are some ways we might improve our knowledge to better understand the past?
“I feel very strongly that most of the history we have been taught is at best incomplete, and at worst, fiction. The more I read history, I realize that all depictions are to some degree fiction. . . We lose something in the interpretation, and as I realized that painters throughout history have embraced this idea of fiction, I have felt complete freedom to address these paintings in a way that made sense to me.”