A Summary Of Rashid Johnson's Use Of Soap?

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Humans seem to have an innate desire to belong, to be a part of a community of people that are similar to them in at least some way. From that desire, individuals craft specific identities and ways of living to place themselves within certain communities and separate from others. Identity can be made up partially by choice—the way people style their hair, how they talk, what materials they use, who they hang out with—but part of identity is also related to things that cannot be chosen, such as a person’s ethnicity or social class. But at what point do these disparate facets coalesce into a singular identity? Through his use of culturally specific materials, Rashid Johnson’s Rumble (2011) suggests certain historical and personal connotations…show more content…
European soap was initially marketed as having “the power to wash black skin white as well as being capable of washing off the soot, grime, and dirt of the industrial slums and their inhabitants… while at the same time keeping the imperial body clean and pure.” Soap was a sign of white supremacy; that which was white was good and pure, while that which was black was dirty and impure. In 1884, Pears’ soap went so far as to use an ad depicting a young African American boy being washed with soap in one panel and, in the next panel, turning white from the head down as a result of the washing. The soap’s main marketing thrust was that it could strip away the unwanted identity of the perceived ‘other:’ to be clean was to not be…show more content…
In an interview, Johnson said that he found “the undefined, in-between space [to be] where it gets interesting.” Perhaps, then, Rumble is suggesting that while people may attempt to create identities based on objects—whether it be white soap or black soap—there will always be a degree of tension, of transience, that distorts that kind of identity. The gaps in the reflections of Rumble serve to expose the absences within an identity, just as the rest of the materials expose the viewer to the presence of one. One’s use of materials can certainly be a powerful aspect in defining identity, but Rumble reminds the viewer that they are not enough—nor can they last long enough—to complete an

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