Yorkshire Sculpture International: Rashid Johnson

22 June – 29 September 2019

Exhibition in Gallery 2

From new work by international artists to sculpture drawn from world-class collections, this festival across Leeds and Wakefield showcases sculpture in all its forms.

Rashid Johnson (b. Chicago) makes work that explores art history, literature, philosophy, race and representation. He works in a variety of media including sculpture, drawing and film, using materials ranging from from tribal masks and books to houseplants and shea butter. Through his work, Johnson draws attention to the processes of identity creation, especially within contemporary black America.

For Yorkshire Sculpture International Johnson has made a new installation in which he considers the responsibilities of objects, and how materials both assign and are assigned with meaning.

Three tables each support a form made entirely from shea butter. Extracted from the African shea tree, the butter is used in cosmetics and has come to be traded in North America and Western Europe on a form of exoticism with healing properties. It is also used widely within the African diaspora. Johnson has described it as a material he is now as familiar with for making art as oil paint, harnessing both its physical and symbolic possibilities.

Three phases of sculpture are presented: on one table, a series of portrait busts alludes to the complicated power systems that often exist when a person commissions a representation of their own image. The anonymous faces also link to Johnson’s previous work, reflecting upon a rise in social injustices and of nationalism in Europe and the United States.

Another table holds a reimagining of a particular moment in the history of Western abstract art – Minimalism. The impermanence and malleability of Johnson’s material subverts the rational order of sculpture from this period.

Finally, responding to the fundamental human need to make and engage with materials, the artist has left one table with shea butter in its found state as an open proposition. Visitors are invited to use the material on this table to make your own sculptures.

Recent exhibitions by Rashid Johnson include: Rashid Johnson. It Never Entered My Mind, Hauser & Wirth, St Moritz (2019); Groundings, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2019); Rashid Johnson. No More Water, Lismore Castle Arts (2918) and Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery, London (2018).

About Yorkshire Sculpture International

Yorkshire Sculpture International is delivered by the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle made up of the Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It showcases the breadth and diversity of contemporary sculptural practice, inspiring audiences to rethink what they understand the form to be.

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Yorkshire Sculpture International in Leeds
Video credit: Film by Nick Singleton

At the Henry Moore Institute, Phyllida Barlow’s assertion that ‘sculpture is the most anthropological of the art forms’ brings together five extraordinary artists whose work looks at the relationship between material culture and an understanding of human history, present and future.

Within the trajectory and methods of anthropology lie the foundations of history and all social sciences. Objects play a pivotal role in that framework, with material culture often made to function as a form of black box recorder that can play back history, identity, belonging and difference. The exhibition at the Institute reflects upon this responsibility of objects.


Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Saturday, 10am - 5pm; Sunday, 1 - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

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