Paul Mpagi Sepuya - Photographs New York Thursday, October 7, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Yancey Richardson, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    LA-based artist Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photographic practice expands the concept of studio portraiture through his use of fragmentation, ambiguity, and layering. Presented as a social and technical environment, the studio is ever-present in his work, intertwined with partial images of his sitters and himself. Self-Portrait Study with Two Figures (1506) captures the apparatus and process of photography: backdrops, chairs, and camera sit alongside reflections and images of the artist’s and another sitter’s body, creating a unique thematic and spatial wholeness in a work composed of visual snippets. This proliferation of images through fragmentation also creates a sense of collage that disrupts concepts of depth and dimension within the medium of photography. Fluctuating between presence and absence, exposure and concealment, the works of Paul Mpagi Sepuya parallel the act of photography itself and the role of the artist within it.

    Sepuya’s work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.

  • Artist Biography

    Paul Mpagi Sepuya

    American • 1982

    Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s distinct photographs are not portraits in the conventional sense. The viewer may catch a glimpse of an arm, torso, or hand, but rarely the sitter’s entire body. Deliberately employing fragmentation and manipulating perspective by using mirrors, drapery and collage, Sepuya has become known for photographs that explore the construction of queer and photographed bodies. This photographic investigation of identity and what it means to be represented is at the core of Sepuya’s artistic project, and has garnered him widespread attention since his graduation with a MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2016, as evidenced most recently in his inclusion Being: New Photography 2018 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in March - August 2018.

    Investigating the studio as a social environment, Sepuya stages friends, partners, muses and lovers as the subjects of his photographs. The deliberate fragmentation of bodies in Sepuya’s photographs is meant to provoke a feeling of desire within the viewer, a longing to see what is concealed. Sepuya’s work features photographic equipment and studio space as a way to examine how identity and individuality – of both the image-maker and the subject – are made manifest in the construction of an image.  

    Sepuya’s photographs are groundbreaking in their simultaneous investigation of racial and sexual identities in reference with the history of photography itself; the stating of props are a sly nod to those found in photography studios from the early 19th century to modern times, drawing our attention to the artifice and constructed image inherent to the photographic process. “(The elements) are tied to a point in time starting in the 1920s and ’30s with (the emergence of) a more self-acknowledged gaze in photography,” Sepuya said. “You put a drapery and a column and mirror, and it’s art instead of a naked person.”

    View More Works

Property from a Contemporary New York Collection


Self-Portrait Study with Two Figures (1506)

Archival pigment print.
46 x 34 in. (116.8 x 86.4 cm)
Overall 49 x 36 3/4 in. (124.5 x 93.3 cm)

Signed in ink, printed title, date, number AP 1 on a gallery label affixed to the reverse of the frame. One from an edition of 5 plus 2 artist's proofs.

$8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for $13,860

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department
+1 212 940 1225
[email protected]


Vanessa Hallett
Deputy Chairwoman, Americas and Worldwide Head of Photographs
+1 212 940 1243
[email protected]


New York Auction 7 October 2021