Rashid Johnson was born in Chicago in 1977. He received a BFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2000, and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2005, where he became interested in critical theory through the study of film, video, and new media under artist Gregg Bordowitz. Working across the disciplines of painting, sculpture, photography, and video, Johnson explores his personal past and identity within the larger context of African American intellectual and creative history.


Johnson’s practice is defined by its critical evocations and entangling of racial and cultural identity, African American history, and mysticism. Many of his early works took the form of conceptual photography, though Johnson eventually expanded his practice to include wall-based works that engage the legacy of painting, sculptural installation, and assemblage, using manufactured materials like shea butter, books records, and incense. “The goal,” Johnson explains, “is for all of the materials to miscegenate into a new language, with me as its author.” Johnson also exercises a range of mark-making techniques—like scoring, scraping, engraving, and branding—using self-made tools.