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Rashid Johnson Makes Things to Put Things On

June 20, 2011

How does an artist contribute his own personal story in the face of prevailing historical narratives? In this film, artist Rashid Johnson discusses the fluid nature of black identity in America and its escapist tendencies, from the Afrocentric politics of Marcus Garvey to the cosmic philosophy of Sun Ra. Johnson’s invented secret society—The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club—is a framework through which the artist humorously upends, through repetition and juxtaposition, conventional expectations of historical influence and legacy.

Inspired by a story by the artist Lawrence Weiner in which one character says to another that “a table is something to put something on,” Johnson creates sculptures of shelf-like structures from materials such as black wax, mirror, tile, and branded wood. Each structure is filled with culturally resonant objects—such as Miles Davis and Ramsey Lewis jazz records, books by comedians Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby, and treatises by scholars such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Debra J. Dickerson—as well as the artist’s own photographs and hand-made objects.

More information and credits

Featuring works from the exhibitions The Dead Lecturer (2008) and Other Aspects (2009-10), as well as works-in-progress in the artist’s Williamsburg studio.

Credits

Art21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Mary Ann Toman. Cinematography: Andrew David Watson. Key Grip: John Marton. Sound: Nicholas Lindner & Nick Ravich. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Production Assistant: Paulina V. Ahlstrom, Don Edler & Maren Miller. Design: Open. Artwork: Rashid Johnson. Thanks: Javier Cordero, Alex Ernst & Brian Lewis. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2011. All rights reserved.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Licensing

Interested in showing this film in an exhibition or public screening? To license this video please visit Licensing & Reproduction.

Rashid Johnson

Rashid Johnson was born in 1977 in Chicago, Illinois, and lives and works in New York. Johnson, who got his start as a photographer, works across media—including video, sculpture, painting, and installation—using a wide variety of materials to address issues of African American identity and history. Invested in the artistic practices of both conceptualism and abstraction, Johnson’s installations frequently include shea butter and black soap, materials that were present throughout his childhood and that carry a particular significance within Afrocentric communities.

“It’s not fully about the predicament of history. It’s about what you’re able to author yourself and how you’re able to form the future rather than living purely in the past.”

Rashid Johnson