‘Third Recording’ at Suffolk


Angela Bray
Journal Staff

Originally from Zimbabwe, Detroit artist Chido Johnson has worked, exhibited and taught both nationally and internationally. He is the current section chair of Sculpture at the College for Creative studies in Detroit, a recent 2009 Kresge Fellow, and a 2009 MacDowell Colony Fellow. Johnson received two BFA degrees from the University of Georgia, Athens: for Sculpture in 1996, and for Painting with a minor in drawing in 1997. His MFA in sculpture degree was acquired in 2000 from the University of Notre Dame.

Domestified Angst: Third Recording is the artist’s solo exhibition exploring his own cultural deliberations. “When I hold a chisel and a mallet and remove material off the surface of a sculpture, I mimic one of the oldest forms of making form in space and I become connected to my ancestors,” said Johnson in an interview curated by Dick Goody, associate professor of Art and Director of the Oakland University Art Gallery. “Carving was utilized globally in many cultures and through it I feel connected to both my European and African heritage. More recently I have been using carving as form of cultural signification.” As a rethinking of the first and second recordings, the third recording includes many of the same pieces featured in the previous exhibits.

The gallery walls, painted a Pepto-Bismol pink, portray the domestic interior while making a pun of “stomaching” the sentiments, as explained in the Oakland University Art Gallery catalogue. A work titled “I swallowed two seeds” is one of an oval wooden mirror frame against the wall with attached plastic flowers representing the Flame Lily, Zimbabwe’s national flower, and yellow rose, the official floral emblem of the U.S.

Johnston is skilled in stone carving, mold making, clay and plaster work, and vacuum mold fabrication. “Playball” is a net hanging from the wall holding heads molded from cast foam. “Buck.it” is constructed using carved mahogany, stacked Home Depot buckets, wire and beads. Standing on an Ikea table, “Smile” is a statue carved of ebony; on the wall is a video projecting the carving of a face into the figure using a Dremel tool. According to Johnson, carving mahogany or ebony acknowl edges his African heritage.

“Dai ndiri shiri” is displayed on kitenge cloth combining colors of brown, blue, green, and yellow atop a silkscreen sofa. A painted stencil (on the wall) of an eagle’s head accompanies the work. The title is taken from a song on the 1983 album Viva! Zimbabwe by Patrick Mkwamba featured with The Four Brothers. “Dai ndiri shiri ndaenda kunami wangu” are the Shona lyrics translating into English as “If I was a bird I would fly back to my mother.”

On the floor beside a ladder hovering art supplies is a spread titled “t.b.o.b. (the birth of bob).” Cast plastic figurines float in water filling red bowls. Emphasizing the political space is a digital painting on Canvas in the foreground of Botticelli’s The Birth of the Venus.

“I want to be a cowboy” displays a carved Greek marble bedside table with a white faux fur rug. The fur is cut to mimic the outline the map of Almeria, Spain, where the first “spaghetti western” movies with Clint Eastwood were filmed. The rug is also intentionally refers to a cheap motel’s shag carpet. The tiny statue atop the table represents a cowboy overlooking the prairie from the mountain range.

“I want to bring ideas into the conversation, for what inspires me to make art are the uncertainties, the grey areas,” Johnson said in the interview with Goody. “I hope I can stir conversations and question perspectives.”

Located in the gallery at 75 Arlington St., Domestified Angst is free and open to the public until January 15. The opening reception will be this Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., with an artist talk in the gallery taking place at 4:30 p.m.