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Past Exhibitions

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Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks

June 8–September 8, 2013

Rashid Johnson’s first major solo museum exhibition explores the artist’s use of his materials to investigate the construction of identity and abstraction, both visual and conceptual.

Overview

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.

About the artist

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.”

Organization and Support

Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.