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Using symbolically loaded imagery and diverse mediums, conceptual ‘post-Black’ artist Rashid Johnson explores the racial and cultural identity of Black Americans.
In 2001, he was the youngest of 28 Black artists who presented works in the seminal Freestyle group exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
A finalist for the Hugo Boss Award, Johnson has exhibited artwork at the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and beyond.
Illinois-born artist Rashid Johnson broaches the racial and cultural identity of Black Americans by creating conceptual works across mediums that range from photography, sculpture, installations, video, and performance. A recipient of the Presidential Purchase Award and the Albert P. Weisman Award while studying photography at Columbia College in Chicago, Johnson rose to prominence as the youngest of 28 Black artists who presented works as part of Freestyle, one of the first exhibitions to introduce the concept of post-Black art, at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2001. Johnson’s work encapsulates a complex conversation about race, identity, and the nuances of Black experiences with his contemporary audiences.
Johnson frequently utilizes imagery and media that are symbolically loaded, such as branding irons, black soap, and shea butter. He attracted controversy with Chickenbones and Watermelon Seeds: The African American Experience as Abstract Art, an exhibition where Johnson placed black-eyed peas, chicken bones, watermelon seeds, and other stereotypical food staples of enslaved people all directly onto photographic paper and exposed them to light through an iron-reactive process to create a bleached effect. At the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago in 2005, he exhibited “The Evolution of the Negro Political Costume,” which presented replicas of outfits worn by Black politicians—a late-1960s dashiki worn by Jesse Jackson, a jogging suit worn by Al Sharpton in the ‘80s, and a business suit worn by then Senator-elect Barack Obama—to invite critical analysis of the presentation of political attire. His 2005 site-specific exhibition Anxious Men in SoHo’s Drawing Center featured twelve portraits of frantically scribbled faces that are as intense as they are cartoonish, made using black soap and wax on tile.
In 2011, Johnson was named as a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize, and he directed the HBO drama Native Son in 2019. In 2020, he presented Untitled Anxious Red Drawings, a series of portraits with a portion of proceeds going to the COVID-19 Solidary Response Fund for the World Health Organization.