By Jason Foumberg
In 2004, Rashid Johnson was named a “Breakout Artist” by this publication in our annual feature of the best emerging artists in Chicago. The following year Johnson relocated to New York City, interrupting his pursuit of an MFA degree from SAIC to chase his rising star. Now, at just thirty-four years old, Johnson, who was born and raised here, returns to Chicago for a mid-career survey at the MCA, titled “Message to Our Folks.”
“You’ve changed” is the oft-expressed reaction to a homecoming, and indeed, Johnson’s work has changed since his days in Chicago. Early on, Johnson pursued direct provocations of black male identity as his photographs examined, in vivid detail, the weathered skin of a homeless man and the artist’s own naked body. Shortly after relocating, Johnson expanded his materials list to include painting, sculpture, video and installation, and he turned his attention away from straightforward race politics toward the complex cultural history of black Americana.