“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
―Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat is a celebration of diversity and an urgent call to action around issues of racial marginalization. Taking inspiration from the African American writer Ralph Ellison, artist Esmaa Mohamoud explores the ways in which Black bodies at once appear—and yet are rendered metaphorically invisible—within the spaces they navigate. She re-examines understandings of contemporary Blackness, questioning the definitions of Blackness as a colour and shade, and/or as a societal or cultural construction.
Mohamoud draws on the modern industry of professional sports, which she equates with a covert form of neo-slavery. The London, Ontario-born artist transforms athletic equipment and symbols to illustrate pervasive, discriminatory behaviours and attitudes based on race, class, gender, and sexuality. She examines collective and individual struggle, focusing on the homogenization of bodies within professional sports, and the enforced playout of competitive violence between Black subjects. Through sculpture, photography, video, and installation, she investigates how high-level athletics operate as sites of corporate profit and discrimination.
This exhibition considers a variety of concerns. Mohamoud’s appropriation of basketball jerseys and Victorian ballgowns, for example, complicates the sport’s fraught relationship with queer, gender-fluid, and female identities. Hockey mesh becomes a physical barrier articulating economic barriers that define contemporary sport. Reconstructed football equipment celebrates cultural plurality through exuberant, diverse designs, while also protesting the staged enactment of Black violence for entertainment. To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat is a plea to address the inequities driving contemporary sports entertainment systems, while envisioning agency, resilience, and collective strength.