For more than a decade, contemporary artist Rashid Johnson has worked almost under the radar, turning out work presented at museums and coveted by collectors around the world.
But in the last year, the Chicago native, whose works made from everyday objects explore his own life story as well as larger issues of black identity, has garnered high-profile attention and awards from the art world. This month he opens his first major solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
“A lot of eyes are on him right now,” said Julie Rodrigues Widholm, curator of “Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks.”
“He’s an artist who has been working for 14 years and has never had a major solo exhibition,” she said. “We really felt because of that absence it was time.”
That timing is excellent. In the last year, Johnson has been included in the prestigious International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, was named a 2012 nominee for the Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Prize and won the High Museum’s David C. Driskell prize that honors African-American art and scholarship.
The attention is appreciated, Johnson said, but he’s more interested in the discourse and dialogue around his work. “When there’s a giant buzz about you, you’re the last person to know,” he said during an interview.
Johnson, who now works in New York, uses everyday materials — everything from books to mirrors to shea butter to plants — to create sculptures that reflect his own life story while exploring the black experience. In a video on the museum website, he recalls growing up “enveloped in this Afrocentric conversation. We celebrated Kwanzaa, my mother wore dashikis.” Then “one day they weren’t wearing dashikis anymore,” he said. He uses art and humor to explore “that transition from Afrocentrism” to “your parents becoming middle-class soccer moms.”
The Chicago exhibition spans Johnson’s body of work, emphasizing the last five years. It includes references to major African-American cultural figures and influences, like W.E.B. DuBois, Miles Davis and Public Enemy, and consists of a variety of media, including photography, video, sculpture and paintings.
Johnson describes himself as a middle-class black kid growing up in the Chicago-area, interested in graffiti, theater and photography. His work, he said, often times is autobiographical.
“It’s an introduction to people of a different black experience,” Johnson said.
Widholm sees several themes running through Johnson’s work, but focuses on identity.
“He is making work that is personal to counteract the expectation of a black artist speaking for all black artists,” she said. “His references and his work allude to artists, musicians, political figures, sports figures, who in one way or another stepped outside of tradition.”
His future, Widholm said, is bright.
“I’m really excited to see how his work creates dialogue in different contexts,” she said. “There’s no limit really to what he can accomplish artistically.”
The title, “Message to Our Folks,” is taken from a 1969 avant-garde album in which musicians used found objects to make percussion and redefine jazz.
The exhibition is in Chicago through Aug. 5. It will travel to the Miami Art Museum, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/15-10/21)
31 photos Launch gallery
1. Just a NY girl with BIG dreams....
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2. HAPPY CHILDREN=QUALITY PARENTING. We don't always see eye to eye on everything and that's normal. We're human beings. But we come together and do it right for what's important, the kids. We are not enemies, we are parents. And we are parents 1st. S/O to @monyettashaw for making Mason's bday memorable. S/O to @itscrystalsmith at home taking care of our other lil' Prince. ❤️❤️❤️ THIS IS WHAT CO-PARENTING LOOKS LIKE. #Blessed #Happy #AboveTheDrama #BiggerThanUs
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3. So happy to finally be able to share with you all that I’m the new Global Brand Ambassador for @Revlon! Follow my day on RevlonSnaps. Yay! Choose Love, Everybody! #RevlonXCiara #chooselove #ad
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4. Glam on point!!!@makeupbymotoko & @shaylinjoneshair #easybreezy @lifetimetv #beachesmovie #january2017 😘
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5. ✨True love ✨📸: @jessiemarrerophotography
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7. Today was not easy..but by the grace of God we all got through it. Words cannot express our gratitude for all of your Prayers, Positive thoughts and Support for us throughout the years. Tommy will be missed but most certainly never forgotten...And PLEASE don't ask "Where's Martin?.." he was there too...just not in this picture. Lol! God bless you all.. #LoveConquersAll #MartinShow
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9. West coast get ready for #RockyHorror. I will be live tweeting again. #letsdothetimewarpagain
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10. #THEKEYS pre order yours now ... Available everywhere #NOV22 #WeTheBest 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
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11. We about to ROCK at #KCABlackBall!! All for our life-changing effort to end 🌎 AIDS.
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12. Today's #SNAPJACK is brought to you by @yazzthegreatest 😂😂😂💋💋💋
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13. Damn girl you kinda old to be headed to the Go Go. You coming in at the age they leaving. LMAO
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14. Daddy daycare B-Boxin with @acewellstucker @shopraisingace
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15. #FBF Naviyd & URV "LIL MONSTERS"
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16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGENDS IN OUR HIPHOP HISTORY! @snoopdogg CONTINUED BLESSING AND LOVE FAMILY!!!!! REAL OG!
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17. Thank you for a beautiful night VSU! Let's do it again! #HOMECOMING
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18. Had a great time this morning with my familia Erica, Griff & Truth!!
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19. Check out my interview on @essence facebook live. #inmyownwords #nycpromo #day2
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20. #She💋 #tbt #TheCoveAtTheAtlantis #DawgPawsAndAll
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21. Bae #retailtherapy
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22. Why me and @coryhardrict got the same pose... and notee... new mouth #naked
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23. When my husband is my personal 'hype-man'! it kills me every time! 💜😂 #WHATNOW #lostfiles📷
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24. Diggy Simmons
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25. Hand full of @jacquieaiche 💙💎💍 @esnail_la 💅🏾
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26. SuperSoulers! You can watch my interview with Carl Lentz live from my Facebook page, tomorrow at 11a ET| 8a PT. #SuperSoulSunday
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27. 💋 .. When the friendship is easy like Sunday morning. ☀️
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28. Sunday mornings are the best........... hugs and cuddles with my angel
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29. #huggar16 #hellohuggars
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30. My gym is everywhere!.. #RnBMoney #TheGeneral 📸: @twelvepastseven
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31. Nothing I would rather be doing... Rocko setting up our movie, Romelō working on a puzzle & Laiyah singing and sharing all she's learning at school... I'm so grateful for the joy they've brought into my life ... Praying for peace , joy & love in the home of EVERY family ♥️ #HeadScarfPJSunday LOL 😂
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