Rashid Johnson

Rashid Johnson, Capsule (detail), 2020–21, powder-coated steel, plants, ceramics, rugs, fibreglass, shea butter, books, video, monitors and grow lights
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 2021. © Rashid Johnson. Photo: NGC

Rashid Johnson: Capsule

As part of its Contemporary Projects initiative, the Gallery approached Rashid Johnson to create a major work for the building’s glass-domed main entrance. The resulting work, Capsule, is the largest pyramidal steel sculpture Johnson has produced to date.

The installation consists of a series of stacked cells filled with plants, books, fiberglass and shea-butter sculptures, video monitors and grow lights. It functions like a brain, incorporating and connecting autobiographical, intellectual, musical, art historical, and literary sources, which are embedded within the objects occupying the minimalist form. 

Art has a long story to tell… it is an incredibly effective delivery system and tool for change… it gives us an opportunity to have a voice — Rashid Johnson

The majority of plants are housed in hand-built ceramic pots made and decorated by the artist with recurring imagery also found in his paintings. The installation features carved blocks of shea butter, one of the artist’s signature materials that was a fixture in his childhood home. The carefully selected stacked books explore tensions and experiences related to issues of race and class.

Johnson has incorporated a pathway through the monumental installation, offering visitors unexpected vantage points. He has also included a performance space at its heart to accommodate live performances. It is his hope that the work will solicit experiences and responses that can be at once emotional, intellectual and critical.


Friday, July 16, 2021 Thursday, January 5, 2023


National Gallery of Canada Main Entrance
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4

In collaboration with the Gallery, Ottawa’s own cultural, urban and music-industry leader Kwende Kefentse has developed a dynamic program to activate Capsule.

Learn more about Platforms: An Activation Series

Rashid Johnson headshot

Photo: Axel Dupeux


the Artist

Born in Chicago, New York-based artist Rashid Johnson studied photography at The Art Institute, later expanding his practice to incorporate sculpture, painting, drawing, filmmaking, performance and installation.

His art explores anxiety and escapism through poignant meditations on race and class. The autobiographical elements in his work include remembered images and products, along with early intellectual, musical and literary influences.

Johnson has had solo exhibitions across Europe and North America, including shows at the Shanghai and Venice Biennales. His work can be found innumerous public collections, including The Art Institute of Chicago, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

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