Office Hours: Paul Mpagi Sepuya: University of California, San Diego

Office Hours: Paul Mpagi Sepuya: University of California, San Diego

e-flux Education

December 23, 2022
Office Hours: Paul Mpagi Sepuya: University of California, San Diego
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Office Hours: Paul Mpagi Sepuya: University of California, San Diego

1. Why did you decide to go into teaching?
Teaching is a stable if difficult job and incredibly freeing for my studio practice. It is a practical job that I both love and dream of quitting almost weekly. But I really am passionate about teaching and care deeply for the students, to whom I am very loyal. Connecting with them is what keeps me going. This happens in studio visits, looking at artists’ work together in exhibitions and books, having freewheeling or in-depth conversations, and seeing their achievements. I don’t enjoy the overwhelming amount of administrative work and grading—I would abolish grading in art.

Catherine Opie connected me to my first teaching job, after Kaucyila Brooke at CalArts reached out to her for a recommendation for someone to step in short-notice to replace a full-time faculty member for a semester. Cathy believed that I could fill in, just six months after completing my MFA. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations, even though I had ten years of arts administration behind me. I still have constant imposter syndrome in the classroom. Later, Pradeep Dalal and Fia Backström, who were at Bard MFA, invited me to teach there, which I did for two summers.

When my career picked up I contemplated taking a break from teaching and supporting myself through my own work, but I realized that what I actually wanted was stability, not the risk of putting everything into one basket. So, I bought a house and seriously applied for a full-time job, the one I have now at the University of California, San Diego.

2. What drew you to your school and what is your teaching philosophy?
Amy Adler recruited me to UCSD, so she drew me to the school when I wasn’t considering it. And Cathy Opie of course insisted that I apply. I never thought I’d make it to the final round, and I credit Vishal Jugdeo, a friend who had recently been hired at UCLA, for getting me over the finish line with my application and clarifying why the opportunity to work at a UC was something not to pass up. But once I started thinking about UCSD, something clicked: it was in the University of California system, and being a public school, graduate students receive full funding. I’m always talking about the people who led me to where I’m at now, and I really do believe it takes a community of support.

3. What theory and art history do you consider most essential for your students? What artist or artwork do you refer to most often?
I’d be curious to ask my students that question. When it comes to art history, artists, and artworks, I begin by paying attention to what students are interested in and do my best to find references that illuminate, complicate, and add questions to what they are drawn to. So, there’s no one answer.

Read more of Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s Office Hours on Art & Education.

Office Hours is a questionnaire series that gathers insights on teaching from artists. In response to ten prompts, educators reflect on the discourses and approaches that animate their teaching, share their visions for the future of art education, and offer advice for students navigating the field of contemporary art.

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December 23, 2022

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