The Broken Five

Rashid Johnson American

Not on view

Johnson began his career as a photographer in his native Chicago in the late 1990s with poignant portraits of Black male acquaintances whose strength and vulnerability were echoed in his prints’ deep brown hues. Since then, he has expanded his practice to include wall reliefs and sculptural environments that display an array of cultural artefacts (Richard Wright novels, Sun Ra records) and masses of shea butter and black soap (products widely used and admired by Diasporic Africans for their ties to homeopathic traditions on that continent). More recently—beginning with the artist’s personal commitment to sobriety in 2014 and continuing with the violent rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election, endless police killings of unarmed Black Americans, a burgeoning world refugee crisis, and countless other sources of sociopolitical and emotional turmoil—Johnson has turned his focus to paintings on mosaic ground of figures whose kaleidoscopic raiment and sparkling surrounds belie their seemingly anguished, shocked countenances. Are Johnson’s Broken Men the stand-ins for a fragile self, shattered by loss and worry? Are they watchmen and witnesses to the world’s horrors? Or are they angelic messengers on the threshold of some other strange and wonderful place?

The Broken Five, Rashid Johnson (American, born Chicago, Illinois, 1977), Ceramic, mirrored glass, spray paint, wood, brass, oil stick, black soap, and wax

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