Ekaterina Suverina, International Publishing Program Coordinator:
The installation of Rashid Johnson’s project Within Our Gates, created as a Garage Atrium Commission, was witnessed by many visitors, and also by the team that worked on the book—so we saw the work in the making from the very beginning. We had a chance to see what Rashid Johnson is like as an artist and see what has informed his understanding of art.
And of course, the first thing that has informed it was minimalism. All objects in Rashid Johnson’s installation were fixed onto a minimalist grid that brings to mind figures like Rosalind Krauss and Sol LeWitt. That was the base on which he arranged plants, books and other carefully selected objects. You can learn how and why he did that from the book. It explains why minimalism was important to him in this work, and where the idea of tropical plants came from. All objects in the installation referred to the long history of human rights—the history of the other: they included books on Africa published in the Soviet Union and books like Black Skin, White Masks by post-colonial author Frantz Fanon. You will see why Rashid Johnson drew parallels between the history of human rights in Russia and the USA, what the Russian Revolution had to do with it—as well as the struggle of African Americans for the right to be admitted to any bar. You will see how all that connects to Rashid Johnson’s personal history, and why a part of the artist’s own collection of books and magazines was also on display. We tried to fit everything into one small book. Although it is devoted to one work, it is a work that reflects on Rashid Johnson’s entire career as an artist who has built many installations and, most importantly, a researcher who explores his African American roots, his American identity and his identity as a citizen of a country.