NIKI JOHNSON

OUR AMERICA/WHOSE AMERICA?

2022 | Ferrin Contemporary | North Adams, MA

Our America/Whose America? Is a “call and response” exhibition between contemporary artists and historic ceramic objects. View the historic collection here.


Niki Johnson

Fitting In With The Squares (Self-Portrait)”
2019
Porcelain Norman Rockwell commemorative plates on wood
67 x 47″


“Fitting in with the Squares” came to me as I grieved the 2016 presidential election. That fall, I had moved my studio home and spent the first weeks of November sorting my belongings while doing some pretty serious soul searching.

READ MORE ABOUT NIKI JOHNSON’S PIECE, FITTING IN WITH THE SQUARES, ON HER BLOG:

 

Niki Johnson is an artist, curator and speaker. Raised in New Mexico, Johnson has spent her adult life living across the United States, including five-year stints in San Francisco, California, and Memphis, Tennessee. She received her BFA from the University of Memphis and MA/MFA degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Studio Art. In Wisconsin, Johnson has taught at universities and curated local and national exhibitions. Her artwork is in several private and public collections including Madison Central Public Library, UW-Health’s American Center Hospital, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the collection of Sara M. and Michelle Vance Waddell. Reviews of Johnson’s artwork have been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, Hyperallergic, and Vice Magazine, amongst other national and international media sources.

ON “FITTING IN WITH THE SQUARES”

“Fitting in with the Squares” came to me as I grieved the 2016 presidential election. That fall, I had moved my studio home and spent the first weeks of November sorting my belongings while doing some pretty serious soul searching.

Two items I found while going through boxes sat next to each other in my mind; an accidental self-portrait taken on a point and shoot camera in the late 90’s and giant a collection of Norman Rockwell plates I’d amassed from thrift stores over the past decade. I think it was their shared color palate that first brought the image and material together for me, but the incongruence of their content is what set me into motion.

Without questioning why, I knew I needed to physically insert the visage of the young woman in the photograph into a Rockwellian framework.

Through the eighteen-month process of cutting down approximately 300 plates into about 9000 pieces so I could cull 2400 of the right tone and pattern, the cultural value of the commemorative plates and the personal underpinnings of the image became clear. Rockwell’s imagery told of an America where father knew best, women knew their place and people of color were not part of the story. It was essentially MAGA illustrated.

The experience slowly revealed the formative and persistent role of resistance and resilience in my life.

In the woman in the portrait, I see shades of my mother, who raised me in an era she fought to secure. I see a woman with greater agency over her life than her foremothers. I see a woman who knows what to take from life, what to leave, and how to build a future out of the pieces that fit.