Rashid Johnson

Born 1977 | Lives and works in New York


Rashid Johnson rose to prominence in 2001, when he was just twenty-three, following the inclusion of his 1999 photographic series "Seeing in the Dark" in Thelma Golden's legendary exhibition "Freestyle" at the Studio Museum in Harlem.


In the years since, the artist, who was born in Chicago and is now based in New York, has developed a multidisciplinary conceptual practice that, while clearly informed by his training in photography, also includes video, sculpture, painting, installation, and performance. His signature materials-Shea butter, black wax and soap, mirrors-recall the body: its maintenance, transformation, and presentation.


Once described the "prince of post-black," Johnson takes such art historical tropes as the grid and the monochrome and interrupts them, reconfigures them, or makes them messy-intermixing them with references to both his own life and the histories and mythologies of black experience in America. From the Afrocentric politics of Marcus Garvey to the cosmologies of Sun Ra, and from the performative objects of David Hammons to the Black Paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, the references in Johnson's work are made pointedly clear. But he also employs anachronistic styles, forms, and photographic methods in order to evoke the subject of "history" itself.


Art historian Huey Copeland wrote of this citational aspect of Johnson's practice as "an aesthetics of misdirection" that negotiates how "meaning, racial and otherwise, is now generated by specific visual phenomena that consistently gesture elsewhere for their charge."  In this way, Johnson's work explores the ways in which the fluid nature of identity is contoured by the materials and discourses of history.