Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks


Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks is the first museum exhibition to survey the career of this Chicago-born, New York-based artist. Using photography, painting, sculpture, and video, Johnson challenges entrenched ways of thinking about the black experience in America and, by extension, seminal issues of race in today’s society. Johnson incorporates commonplace objects from his childhood into his work in a process he describes as “hijacking the domestic.” He transforms these materials—plants, books, record albums, photographs, shea butter, soap—into conceptually loaded and visually compelling art that investigates the construction of identity. Steeped in individual experience while invoking shared cultural references, Johnson’s work also calls upon black American creative and intellectual figures, extending the legacy of these cultural icons.

While Johnson’s works are grounded in dialogue with modern and contemporary art history, specifically abstraction and appropriation, they also give voice to an Afro-futurist narrative in which the artist commingles references to experimental musician Sun Ra, jazz great Miles Davis, and rap group Public Enemy; organizations such as Sigma Pi Phi (the first African American Greek-letter organization); and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois and others. In addition to exploring his own personal and cultural history, the artist humorously shares his metaphysical journey with us as he contemplates the creation of the universe, art, and the self.

Message to Our Folks is titled after a 1969 album by avant-garde jazz collective Art Ensemble of Chicago. The exhibition is curated by Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Pamela J. Alper Associate Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The exhibition will be on view at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum from September 20, 2013 to January 6, 2014.  Click here for more information.


Rashid Johnson, Jonathan with Eyes Closed, 1999. Toned silver gelatin print, 21 1/2 x 27 1/2". Collection of Paul and Dedrea Gray, Chicago. Photo by Michael Tropea, Chicago.


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