Esmaa Mohamoud Canadian, b. 1992

Overview

"People understand Blackness in monolithic terms. They don’t see Blackness as a multiplicity. That’s an issue I try to cover: the monolith versus the multiplicity."

- Esmaa Mohamoud

African-Canadian artist Esmaa Mohamoud (b. 1992, Canada) describes her studio practice as an examination of “the monolithic versus the multitude.” Her work is a visually stunning and profound examination of the gap between contemporary culture's oversimplification and diminishment of Black people, compared to the complexity, richness, and diversity of their actual lived experiences.

Mohamoud’s critically acclaimed solo exhibition Esmaa Mohamoud: To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat, which toured the National Galleries of Canada, looks specifically at how the Black body is reduced within the vernacular of athleticism. Sculptures such as Glorious Bones critique depictions of the Black body as being disposable, while the photographic series One of the Boys examines the vulnerability of Black masculinity within the guise of professional sports.

Mohamoud was born and raised in the small suburban town of London, Ontario. Prized by marketers as so quintessentially representative of the Canadian population that it is a standard testing ground for consumer products, such as new potato chip flavors, London has also long been home to a majority white population. Mohamoud recalls frequently being the only Black person in academic and social settings, and most of her early encounters with representations of Blackness came from American media, which tended to present Black culture in superficial and monolithic terms.

Frequent international travel and graduate work at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) in Toronto broadened Mohamoud’s perspectives, fueling her interest in bringing the true multiplicity of the Black experience into sharp focus through her studio practice.

 

In her newest body of work, Mohamoud extends her interest in the monolithic versus the multiplicity by examining everyday aspects of Black life, such as financial literacy, Black beauty, and the surveillance of Black bodies. “In certain contexts, my body becomes a visual signifier of some kind of threat,” she says.

Mohamoud’s practice manifests across multiple mediums—including sculpture, photography, textiles, video, and large-scale public installations—and incorporates a broad range of materials and methods, including concrete, textiles, metal, and found objects. She describes her aesthetic as “soft industrial.”

“Part of my practice is hard—metal chains and concrete,” she says. “Then there’s this tenderness to the practice, like fabric and ball gown dresses.”

Mohamoud’s deft examination of the monolith versus the multitude will be on view in Kavi Gupta’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2021, and in a forthcoming solo exhibition at Kavi Gupta in 2022.

 

Mohamoud is a 2021 Artist-in-Residence in Kehinde Wiley’s renowned Black Rock Senegal residency program in Dakar, Senegal. Her critically acclaimed solo exhibition To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat (originated at Museum London in Ontario) is currently on view at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), and will travel in 2022 to the Art Gallery of Ottawa and the Art Gallery of Winnipeg, concluding at the Art Gallery of Alberta in 2023. In 2022, Mohamoud’s work will be included in the exhibition Garmenting: Costume and Contemporary Art, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY, USA. Her work has previously been exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum; Museum of Fine Arts Montreal; and Weatherspoon Art Museum, UNCG, Greensboro, NC, USA, among others. Works by Mohamoud are in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada; Art Gallery of Ontario; Weatherspoon Museum; Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan; Museum London; and University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries, among others.

Works
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