1977, Chicago, United States
Rashid Johnson is a Contemporary artist working in sculpture and photography, frequently incorporating everyday objects such as sea butter, soap, wax, and VHS tapes. Johnson’s work investigates racial identity in the context of Conceptual Post-Black art, with both humor and pathos. “When I was younger, I would see shea butter being sold on the street, and I was interested in how people were still coating themselves in the theater of Africanism,” Johnson said. “You see that in dashikis and hairstyles and music.”
Born in 1977 in Chicago, he grew up in an Afrocentric family which influenced many of his ideas about identity. After earning a BFA from Columbia College Chicago in 2000, he went on to receive an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Rashid Johnson’s practice is defined by its critical evocations and entangling of racial and cultural identity, African American history, and mysticism. Many of his early works took the form of conceptual photography, though Johnson eventually expanded his practice to include wall-based works that engage the legacy of painting, sculptural installation, and assemblage using manufactured materials like shea butter, books records, and incense. “The goal,” Johnson explains, “is for all of the materials to miscegenate into a new language, with me as its author.” Johnson also exercises a range of mark-making techniques – like scoring, scraping, engraving, and branding—using self-made tools.
Johnson first rose to prominence when, at the age of 21, he participated in the seminal group exhibition Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He has since had solo exhibitions at the Sculpture Center, Hauser & Wirth, the Kemper Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Salon 94, and many others. His work has also been in group exhibitions at the Guggenheim, LACMA, the 2011 Venice Biennale, and, recently, the Whitney Museum’s first exhibition in their new building, America Is Hard to See.