Paternal instinct

Words by Amei Wallach
Photography by Daniel Shea

Amei Wallach meets Rashid Johnson, the American artist who combines Joseph Beuys with Public Enemy to break down the monolithic African-American perspective

On a drippingly hot summer afternoon, on a wooded back road in the Hamptons, Rashid Johnson strides into the supersized white kitchen that anchors the expansive spaces of his country house and scoops up his three-and-a-half-year-old son Julius. Julius babbles gleefully then scrambles down. He has other things on his mind, other places to explore, preferably outdoors in the direction of the basketball hoop, leaving his father to tag behind.

Fatherhood delights and weighs on Rashid Johnson. When you are a black man in America, even a man like Johnson, who is at the forefront of a generation of young artists internationally heralded for the wide-ranging aesthetic risks they take in exploring their time and their situation, fatherhood is cause for anxiety. Fatherhood may be cause for anxiety for anyone at any time anywhere, but the stakes have always been higher if you are African-American. Julius was born on Rashid Johnson’s 34th birthday, 25 September 2011. During the years of Julius’s short life, scenes of the killings of unarmed young black men by white vigilantes and policemen have exposed ugly realities long unheeded and unseen. “My son had just been born when the Trayvon Martin case was happening,” Johnson says, referring to the killing of an unarmed black 17-year-old by a white, self-appointed neighbourhood watchdog in February 2012. “And you even had Barack saying, ‘If I had a son, this could be my son.’ So I’m feeling this kind of personal space around anxiety and life change.” 

Read more in Issue 1...