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SepuyaPaul Sepuya

Associate Professor

Department of Visual Arts

Paul Mpagi Sepuya is an artist working in photography whose projects weave together histories and possibilities of portraiture, queer and homoerotic networks of production and collaboration, and the material and conceptual potential of blackness at the heart of the medium. His interests also include queer literary modernism, questions of artistic responsibility and care regarding representation and refusal.

Sepuya received an MFA in photography at UCLA in 2016. From 2000–2014 Sepuya lived and worked in New York City, receiving a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2004. Sepuya became known for his 2005–2007 zine series “SHOOT” and body of work, “Beloved Object & Amorous Subject, Revisited” (2005–2008), along with participation and collaborations in the re-emergence of queer zines culture of the 2000s.

He went on to participate in artist-in-residence programs at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, The Studio Museum in Harlem and Fire Island Artist Residency.

Sepuya’s work is in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, MOCA Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the International Center for Photography, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art, among others.

Solo museum exhibitions include “Double Enclosure” at Fotomuseum Amsterdam (2018) and “Paul Mpagi Sepuya,” a survey of work from 2006–2018, at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Recent museum exhibitions also include the Whitney Biennial 2019, “Being: New Photography 2018” at the Museum of Modern Art and “Trigger” at the New Museum (New York City, both 2018), and the Walker Art Center, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Getty Museum.

Sepuya’s work has been covered and published in ARTFORUM, Aperture, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Art Review, Frieze, Art in America, Monocle, Osmos and The Nation, among others. He was a recipient of the 2019 Rauschenberg Residency, and was visiting faculty at California Institute of the Arts from 2017–2019 and Bard MFA 2018–2019.

What excites you most about coming to UC San Diego?

I’m most excited to begin at UC San Diego because it means deepening my commitment to the University of California system, which has had a huge impact in my life. The UC San Diego Visual Arts faculty has such a strong history in the field of photography, and I am honored to be joining such a legacy.

Why did you choose your field of study?

There’s nothing else I can imagine having pursued. I always loved making art as a kid but didn’t know it was a profession. I thought I would be a computer scientist, actually. When I was a sophomore in high school I took a summer photo course at UC Riverside, an intro to black and white darkroom photography. That was about the time I realized I could actually study photography in college.

I could pursue being an artist — even if I didn’t fully know what it meant and what it would take.

What advice do you have for students who choose to major in arts and humanities?

The advice I can give students who choose to major in the visual arts is: don’t let anyone fool you that it is not profoundly meaningful, difficult and challenging work. Visual art is not entertainment, it is not diversion. Practicing the visual arts prepares you, no matter where you end up — whether as a working artist, a scholar, a social worker, anything — with the tools to creatively and critically tackle questions and combine knowledge toward new paths.

How do you view your role relative to the greater regional community?

As someone committed to San Diego and a member of the Los Angeles and New York arts communities, I hope to be a bridge connecting the talent and potential of San Diego with colleagues and collaborators.

Tell us something about yourself that is not normally mentioned in your bio.

At 21 I made the front page of the New York Times Metro Section with my best friend: for singing karaoke.