New Artwork by Rashid Johnson on View at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Artwork Coincides With the 20th Anniversary of the Signing of Federal Legislation Creating the Museum Dec. 16
December 12, 2023
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Black and blue patterned painting hangs above doorways and elevators in museum lobby.

Rashid Johnson, “Bruise Painting ‘Message to Our Folks,’” 2023. Copyright Rashid Johnson.
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photograph by Josh Weilepp/NMAAHC.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has received a powerful artwork from African American artist Rashid Johnson, on loan from the artist’s representative, Hauser & Wirth. The 20-by-7½-foot painting, titled “Bruise Painting ‘Message to Our Folks,’” is now on view in the museum’s Heritage Hall space. The artwork addresses the impact of social change and the uncertainty of living in a period of both reckoning and healing.

“Rashid Johnson’s ‘Bruise Painting ‘Message to Our Folks’’ is the culmination of the extraordinary series of Bruise Paintings the artist began in 2021, joining the host of stellar artworks in our Heritage Hall,” said Kevin Young, NMAAHC’s Andrew W. Mellon Director. “By referring in both color and title to the blues, the music that provides the blueprint for all American music, Johnson helps us match the museum’s mission to tell the American story through an African American lens. I love how this and his other works continues a conversation around history, tragedy and triumph—here in paint rendering a range of tones, from light blue to almost black, suggestive of skin and questions of color.”

“Bruise Painting ‘Message to Our Folks,’” like other paintings in the artist’s Bruise series, begins with a gridded structure. Within the grid, Johnson creates gestural, abstract faces. These faces, with wide open eyes and rectangular mouths, have appeared in Johnson’s work since 2015, first in larger scale and then smaller in his “Anxious” series. The “Bruise” paintings draw on the song “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue” by Fats Waller, Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf—made popular in a recording by Louis Armstrong—which directly links the blues to Blackness.

About Rashid Johnson

Johnson is one of the most influential contemporary American artists of the current time. Born in Chicago, Johnson studied at Columbia College and the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Johnson began his career as a photographer in the early 2000s, and he eventually moved permanently to New York. Johnson is a multi-disciplinary artist, working in sculpture, painting, drawing, filmmaking and installation. He often utilizes everyday materials ranging from shea butter to tropical plants, reflecting his childhood and African American culture. Johnson’s work is inspired by and exhibits topics such as literature, music, critical theory, personal and racial identity, mental health and history.

In 2016, Johnson became the first artist to join the Guggenheim Foundation’s Board of Trustees. His first feature-length film, a modern adaptation of Richard Wright’s book, Native Son, premiered in 2019 with acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. He has had solo exhibitions across the United States and Europe as well as in Canada, Mexico, Russia, and Hong Kong. His work is featured in several notable museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and NMAAHC.   

About the Museum 

Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed 10 million in-person visitors and millions more through its digital presence. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. The museum has also launched and is continually expanding its reach with the Searchable Museum portal and other efforts to bring the African American history into the world’s hands and homes. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000. 

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SI-363-2023