21 oct 2021

Artist Rashid Johnson, 1st mentor of Reiffers Art Initiatives, on the cover of Numéro art 9

As the October 22 the exhibition of the French artist Kenny Dunkan at the Studio des Acacias, under the mentorship of African-American artist Rashid Johnson, Numéro art looks back at the career of this first mentor of the Reiffers Art Initiatives endowment fund, committed and established himself, in the 2000s, as a huge creator by summoning African-American identity and history, its revolts, its culture… 

Rashid Johnson by Dana Scruggs.

Rashid Johnson was a little over 25 years old when, in the early 2000s, he conquered his singular place within the American art world. Long before the Black Lives Matter movement, the artist summoned complex systems of narratives in his photographs – we see him posing naked in front of the camera in one of his most famous in 2005 – his paintings and installations referring to African-American identity and history, its revolts, its art as much as its literature, his music or his everyday objects. The shea butter used during his childhood in the family circle thus became one of his emblematic materials. However, there is nothing demonstrative about his works, they are neither outrageously figurative nor didactic, but rather as puzzles that are often abstract, sometimes minimalist, where materials, figures and objects (when they are recognizable) work together to express intimate emotional states rather than simply wanting to represent, literally, the African-American community. There is vandalism in his paintings, in this way of creating and destroying in the same movement, burning, breaking, assembling and disassembling materials and forms. Joy, excitement, but also struggle and violence, trauma and its healing explode there. Nothing is pure in these brain-works intertwining thoughts and emotions.


Over the past decade, Rashid Johnson has developed two new series that are already iconic. His Anxious Men, black faces scribbled on the canvas, multiply over vast formats – following a grid (a matrix that the artist is particularly fond of) taking on different colors: red, blue… Because it is not only a question of representing black bodies, but of evoking the anxiety and questions of an entire society, beyond the color of the skin. His characters observe you, in number, in community, and become the accusing or questioning witnesses of your own existence as a spectator. “Gender and skin color have never been the predominant characteristics of these characters,” insists the artist. His Broken Men series perpetuates the artist’s developments around his emotional states on vast formats made from small pieces of ceramic. Broken or reglued? The ambiguity of the material echoes that of feelings.


Discover the interview with Rashid Johnson in the Art Issue 9

Rashid Johnson photographed by Dana Scruggs in his studio in Brooklyn.

Rashid Johnson continues his commitment to the very heart of American cultural institutions, from the Guggenheim, of which he is a board member, to the Performa Institute. In 2021, he agreed to take part in a French initiative. Reiffers Art Initiatives, a new endowment fund created by Paul-Emmanuel Reiffers [also director of publication of Numéro art], has been working since its recent creation to promote young artists on the French scene, their global influence and, above all, greater cultural diversity. Rashid Johnson immediately agreed to be the first international artist to take on the role of mentor for the fund. He has been working for several months now alongside the young French artist Kenny Dunkan, selected by Rashid Johnson himself on the proposal of an artistic committee made up of personalities such as Emma Lavigne, Simon Njami, Diana Campbell Betancourt, Marie-Cécile Zinsou… and the very author of his lines. At the end of this mentorship, Kenny Dunkan proposed an exhibition that opened on October 22, 2021 during the FIAC, at the Studio des Acacias. The exhibition, produced by Reiffers Art Initiatives, will then travel to China and, we all hope, very soon to the United States. “Generosity” is a word that comes up very often in the mouth of Rashid Johnson. This was mentioned in his recent project at MoMA where the artist made a microphone available to everyone, so that everyone could express themselves and amplify their voice. It is also a question in this first Reiffers Art Initiatives mentoring course.


NO APOLOGIES, an exhibition by Kenny Dunkan, under the mentorship of Rashid Johnson. Studio des Acacias, 30 rue des Acacias, 17th. From October 22 to November 20, 2021.


Discover the interview with Rashid Johnson in the Art Issue 9

Rashid Johnson, “Bruise painting ‘honeysuckle rose'” (2021). Oil on linen. 243.5 x 400.7 x 6.4 cm. Photo: Martin Parsekian. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles