Umar Rashid (also known as Frohawk Two Feathers) is a natural storyteller. He employs writing, illustration, painting, and sculpture to construct fabulations or, put simply, alternative historical narratives that reference a panoply of cultures, collapsing geography and time. At the core of his practice is a reimagining of romantic history painting and eighteenth-century colonial scenes. Rashid steers clear of simplistic dichotomies, challenging the viewer with a complex iconographic language of arcane classifying systems, maps, and cosmological diagrams. His work is informed by recognizable cultural references, whether historical materials such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, ledger art, Persian miniature painting, and illustrated Spanish colonial manuscripts or more contemporary phenomena such as the hip-hop era of the 1980s and 1990s. Alongside these identifiable sources—often regarded as “truth”—are unseen, fantastical stories, with Rashid taking on the role of what one might call a fabulist. His painterly tales complicate the idea of what is true and false, prompting us to consider whether the “truths” that we are taught may in fact be lies.
In his work for Made in L.A. 2020, Rashid continues his critique of Spanish-controlled colonial California and the depredations of the indigenous population via the “mission system.” He presents an homage to indigenous rebel forces composed partially in the tradition of the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix but also that of the baroque master Peter Paul Rubens. As the scene plays out against the backdrop of a burned Spanish mission and the death of a Spanish officer, aspects of contemporary life infiltrate the composition. The manner in which figures are presented is inspired by the early hip-hop–era portraiture of the photographer Jamel Shabazz, to reflect and meditate on what the artist deems “the stigma of colonial collaboration among the belligerents.” The romantic style and mountainous setting stand in contrast to Rashid’s triptych at the Hammer Museum, which depicts a maritime scene, presented in a naive style. These two works also engage in dialogue with the two hemispheres of Los Angeles: a maritime one to the west and a mountainous one to the east, divided by a river. The title of the series, Crossing the Ruby Construct, references the Rubicon, a river in republican Rome that, when crossed by the forces of Gaius Julius Caesar, precipitated the fall of the republic and the rise of the empire.
In Made in L.A. 2020: a version, the artist's work is present in two institutions, across Los Angeles. See Umar Rashid's work on view at the Hammer.
Umar Rashid (also known as Frohawk Two Feathers) was born in 1976 in Chicago. A natural storyteller, he has developed a practice that reinvents the paths of populations often omitted from the historical record. Through writing, illustration, painting, and sculpture, Rashid creates alternative historical narratives—including a what-if story about France and England unifying into a gargantuan empire—that reference a panoply of cultures and collapse geography and time while underlining the intricacies of race, gender, class, and overall power in the colonial world. Rashid steers clear of simplistic dichotomies and instead challenges the viewer to consider the complex feelings and conducts that make up every human. In his tales people are as likely to be heroes as villains no matter their color, which ultimately acknowledges their agency as historical actors. Rashid has invented a complex iconographic language that uses classifying systems, maps, and cosmological diagrams. His work is deeply informed by the hip-hop culture of his youth, using both modern and ancient references and such stylistic sources as Egyptian hieroglyphs, ledger art, Persian miniature painting, and illustrated Spanish colonial manuscripts. His work has appeared in group shows at François Ghebaly Gallery and Jeffrey Deitch, both in Los Angeles (all 2019).