Untitled, Manumission Papers, 2001
Van Dyke Brown print
Collection of Paul and Dedrea Gray, Chicago
Photo: Michael Tropea, Chicago
Message to Our Folks is New York-based artist Rashid Johnson's first major solo museum exhibition. Titled after a 1969 album by avant-garde jazz collective Art Ensemble of Chicago, the exhibition examines how Johnson's work has developed over the first fourteen years of his career. Johnson (American, b. 1977) deftly works with several different media exploring the physicality of his materials to investigate the construction of identity and abstraction, both visual and conceptual. Many of Johnson's materials refer to his childhood in Chicago during the 1970s and 80s, suggesting both personal and broader cultural connections.
While Johnson's works are grounded in a dialogue with modern and contemporary art history, specifically abstraction and appropriation, they also give voice to an Afro-futurist narrative – an approach that combines history, science fiction, magical realism, and non-Western theories of the origins of the universe. Throughout the artwork on view, Johnson explores the work of black intellectual and cultural figures as a way to understand his role as an artist as well as the shifting nature of identity and the individual's role in that shift. By bringing attention to difference and individuality, he attempts to deconstruct false notions of a singular black American identity.
Organization & Support
Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Top Image Credits
Triple Consciousness, 2009
Black soap, wax, vinyl in album cover, shea butter, plant, and brass
Collection of Dr. Daniel S. Berger, Chicago
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Death by Black Hole "The Crisis", 2010
Steel, black soap, wax, books, shea butter, plant, space rock, mirror, spray enamel, and stained wood
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
Image courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Self Portrait with My Hair Parted Like Frederick Douglass, 2003
Edition 3 of 3 aside from 2 artists' proofs
Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of the Susan and Lewis
Manilow Collection of Chicago Artists, 2006.26
Rashid Johnson earned his B.F.A. from Columbia College Chicago in 2000 and enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. The program's heavy emphasis on concept and theory posed a challenge to Johnson who wanted to make things. Yet it stoked his interest in the formal elements of artworks and in finding meaningful materials outside those typically associated with traditional art. Johnson left for New York in 2005, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. Johnson was the recipient of the 2012 David C. Driskell Prize.
Much of Johnson's work explores the complexities and contradictions of black identity, in particular, challenging stereotypical ways of thinking about the black experience and emphasizing its plurality. Johnson's "black experience" was a middle class one, not often portrayed in the arts or mass-media. Because his work often draws on personal experiences, he doesn't attempt to speak for his entire race. Johnson characterizes his work as more biographical than political and notes, "I grew up in a situation where experiences had as much to do with class or gender as with race. I project this story of the black middle class into my work, but also I want material representations of blackness in other ways. And I hope that the contradictions are never fully resolved."
Explore with ArtClix!
ArtClix, our award-winning smartphone app, brings together photo-recognition and social media to give museum-goers a total interactive experience.
Use the High's smartphone app ArtClix to listen to Rashid Johnson's musical references as you explore Message to Our Folks. Look for the ArtClix icon next to seven artworks in the show.
ArtClix is available as a free download from the AppStore and Google Play