Photography by Doosoo Kim
Rashid Johnson is a 40-year-old visual art star from Chicago whose work has been featured everywhere from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Studio Museum of Harlem to the Venice Beach Biennale. The doorman may have been observant, aware of all the hotel's guests, or even a fan of Johnson's work who was too intimidated to say something—we'll never know. But racism can function in such a manner that you come to expect it even more than you actually experience it. Through that sense of apprehension (and many other ways), racism becomes a constant impact on your life, whether or not it is experienced in a given encounter. "The fascinating thing about race," Johnson says, "is the fact that we know it does affect you, but one of the things that's most difficult to explain sometimes is how and when you're experiencing those specific things."
Johnson knows and embraces the fact that race influences his life constantly—even if he can't always put a finger on exactly how—and that's part of why he likes directly addressing race in his work. For him, when you realize that race has a perpetual significance in your life, then you can't make honest art that doesn't take race into account. "I'm not offended by being called a Black artist," Johnson says. "I don't see being a Black artist as a ghettoizing space. I don't think it's negative." He accepts being thought of as a Black artist because he accepts that Blackness has a deep impact on him, but also because he loves Blackness in all of its complexity. "I'm invested in the investigation of Blackness," he says. "I'm absolutely invested in that, and I am totally intrigued."