Hank Willis Thomas The Cotton Bowl, 2011.
Photo : courtesy of the artist & Goodman Gallery

Playing to the Gallery: Sports and the Arts as Spaces for Advocating Societal Transformation

Florence-Agathe Dubé-Moreau
Football shoulder pads occupy the centre of the gallery space, empty armatures held up by a metal rod, topped by a helmet, and complemented with cleated shoes below.1 1 - I wish to clarify that the following analysis is written from the position of a white woman looking at these realities from the point of view of a scholarly background in art history and with direct experience in professional football over a period of seven years, as my life partner is an NFL player.. The surfaces of the equipment are covered with African wax fabric and metres of chain cascade to the floor behind the sculpture, like a cape or a regal train. On the wall, a photograph, whose large format and textile support suggest the sports banners that fly in stadiums and arenas, portrays a young Black2 man wearing nearly seventy kilograms of gear, 2 - Editor's Note: The writing of the adjective "Black" with the initial capital letter is a deliberate choice of the author. his back almost fully turned to the camera.
Esmaa Mohamoud
Untitled (No Fields), 2018.
Photo : courtesy of the artist & Georgia Scherman Projects

This is how the young multidisciplinary artist Esmaa Mohamoud presented her installation Untitled (No Fields)(2018), part of the touring exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art.3 3 - Presented from May 12 to September 16, 2018, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Toured by the Royal Ontario Museum. Curators: Silvia Forni, Julie Crooks, and Dominique Fontaine. Curator of the adaptation for Montréal: Geneviève Goyer-Ouimette. Exploring ways that sports and racial issues interconnect in contemporary society, Mohamoud frequently draws from the codes and materials of the basketball and football industries to build powerful images that probe the politics of Black bodies, particularly male ones, or of Blackness. Researcher Samantha N. Sheppard, who interrogates Black visibility in media images, notably those from American sports movies, similarly connects the spectacle of sports with the expression of Black histories.4 4 - Samantha N. Sheppard, Sporting Blackness: Race, Embodiment, and Critical Muscle Memory on Screen (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020). Mohamoud’s work Untitled (No Fields) adorns the book cover. She, too, focuses her analyses on the worlds of basketball and football, because, she explains, of “the contemporary magnitude of these sports in popular culture and their importance (in terms of participation and cultural impact) to African-American communities.”5 5 - Ibid., p. 7.

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This article also appears in the issue 103 - Sportification

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