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Exploring Identity

Inspired by Rashid Johnson’s Falling Man, 2015

Lesson Plan Details

Conceptual Basis

Rashid Johnson, born in Chicago in 1977, lives and works in New York and is recognized as one of the major voices of his generation. He composes searing meditations on race and class using a variety of artistic traditions. His early studies were in photography and conceptual art, but he is equally interested in other mediums and testing the ability of abstract visual languages to communicate across cultural boundaries. He now works across media using video, sculpture, painting, and installation to address issues of African-American identity and history.

Rashid Johnson addresses themes of identity, anxiety, and escape across various mediums. In each of the assemblages in the artist’s Falling Man series, including the work below, the shape of an upside-down man appears in ceramic or mirrored tiles. In form, they recall the pixilated characters from vintage video games falling into the void after virtually “dying” or failing to complete a level, or the chalk outlines of real-world bodies left at crime scenes. In this work, the figure is surrounded by tiles marred by spider-web cracks that suggest bullet holes as well as abstract splatters of black soap and spray paint, all alluding to the aftermath of a violent event.

Johnson often includes autobiographical references in much of his work. Falling Man, 2015, for example, includes a star-shaped cutout that frames a photograph of Johnson’s father taken around the time of the artist’s birth. The collection of books and a radio that can be seen in the background of the photograph are frequently recurring objects for the artist and appear in several of his sculptural and installation works.

Drawing of a Playstation controller with pacman figures behind it
A teacher's example project for the artmaking activity