Two pathbreaking New Haveners won prestigious MacArthur “genius” awards Thursday.
The two winners — artist Titus Kaphar and epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves — were among the 25 “extraordinarily creative people” chosen for this year’s awards by the MacArthur Foundation. The winners, dubbed “MacArthur fellows,” each get $625,000 to spend as they wish.
Kaphar and Gonsalves are examples of people who came to town to study at Yale, then put down roots here and committed themselves to making a difference in New Haven.
As they both have demonstrated in just these past few weeks.
Kaphar, who’s 42, settled in Beaver Hills after earning a graduate degree in art in 2006. He fell in love with the city. Even as his career took off nationally (he’s currently working on a project with Spike Lee, among others), he has spearheaded “NXT HVN,” an effort to convert a vacant old Dixwell factory into a new hub for artists, including ongoing programs for city kids. He led a tour of the evolving space on Wednesday. (Read about that here.)
Here’s what the MacArthur Foundation says about his work: “Titus Kaphar is an artist whose paintings, sculptures, and installations explore the intersection of art, history, and civic agency. He works across genres, often appropriating and manipulating Western art’s styles and mediums to address pressing social concerns, such as the legacy of slavery in the United States and the confluence of racial injustice, punishment, and protest.
“He employs traditional painting techniques only to rupture the coherence of the scenes and figures he represents—and their attendant claims to authority—through a literal deconstruction or obscuring of the image and its physical support. For example, in Sacrifice (2011), which comprises two distinct elements, Kaphar initially rendered a formal group portrait of three men, two black and one white, on a traditional canvas. He then cut the seated white figure away and resituated it atop the bare stretcher bars that would have supported an accompanying canvas. As a result, the work depicts a double loss: the black men flank a glaring absence, and the white man is bereft of any context whatsoever. Kaphar’s practice also includes drawing, performance, and immersive environments. The Vesper Project (initiated in 2013) recounts the story of a fictional, nineteenth-century New England family of mixed heritage whose members pass as white, though legally they are considered black. For the project, he painstakingly installed within a gallery a reconstruction of the Vesper family’s two-room residence in an advanced state of dilapidation. The decaying and disordered house serves as the setting for a number of other deconstructed paintings by the artist that address questions of historical representation, memory, and the erasure of identity. More recently, in a body of work collectively called Monumental Inversions (begun 2016), he has turned his attention to traditions of monument making and public commemoration in the United States.”
Gonsalves, who’s 54, founded the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale’s public health and law schools “to further advance human rights and social justice perspectives in public health and legal research, practice, and teaching.” Before receiving his undergraduate degree and PhD at Yale, he worked in the trenches for ACT Up and co-founded the Treatment Action Group.
He showed up Sept. 12 to New Haven City Hall to participate in a public hearing about the opioid crisis. He appealed for public support for the kind of treatment offered by the embattled APT Foundation. ” We need more services like APT, not less. Do not surrender to NIMBY-ism and misinformation. Build out from APT’s success. I love this city. People who use drugs are not ‘them.’ They’re our brothers and sisters. It’s shocking to me to hear myths perpetrated,” he testified.
Here’s how MacArthur described Gonsalves’ work: ” For nearly three decades, Gonsalves was an HIV/AIDS activist, working with domestic and international organizations such as AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa. His efforts to connect the HIV/AIDS community with top-tier researchers and scientists were a critical catalyst to fundamental advances in scientific knowledge of the disease. These experiences deeply informed his later training in epidemiology and current efforts to optimize the effectiveness of health programs for epidemic diseases, particularly within poor and marginalized communities.
“Using a variety of quantitative approaches and operations research modeling, Gonsalves has determined how to identify hot spots for HIV testing in real time in order to maximize identification of undiagnosed HIV-positive persons; shed light on ways to minimize dropout of HIV-positive patients at key points in the care continuum; and assessed the epidemiological costs of emerging epidemics of HIV in the United States due to intravenous drug use and lack of needle exchange programs. In another line of research, Gonsalves examined the link between high rates of sexual violence against women living in informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa, and the lack of indoor sanitation—the remote location of facilities left women vulnerable to attacks. He developed a mathematical model that determined the optimal number of new facilities and demonstrated that sanitation investments by the city would significantly reduce instances of sexual violence as well as their associated costs.”