Esmaa Mohamoud: IT CANNOT ALWAYS BE NIGHT: Arsenal Contemporary
Darkness Doesn't Rise To The Sun, But We Do is Mohamoud's first large-scale in-gallery immersive installation consisting of 500 matte-black metal dandelions, arranged in large and meandering groupings that take over the exhibition floor. As though birthed from the concrete, this massive groundswell of metal flora is softened and balanced by transcendent, luminescent orange gradient that warmly suffuses the atmosphere.
As if stepping into the eye of a sunset, Mohamoud's enveloping installation allows viewers to saunter around these heterogenous groupings that ebb and flow throughout the installation, creating personal walkways for the viewer to glide through the field. These paths and zones naturally wend their way through the installation to create intimate and confined personal environs for solemn contemplation. Awash with golden hues, at first glance each black dandelion looks identical. However, closer examination reveals idiosynerasies found from flower to flower.
Laboriously cut, welded, painted, an arranged in different poses, each individual floret consists of several layers of petals hand-bent by the artist. 500 miniature black beacons appear like darkly-cast silhouettes that starkly contrast the otherwise empty- feeling space. Standing at around 840 square feet total (40' x 21'), Mohamoud's Darkness Doesn't Rise To The Sun, But We Do is an unkept garden of unassuming metal dandelions, sprouting upwards in resilient gestures in a hopeful attempt to reach the sun. The sheer volume of these seemingly arbitrary, but nevertheless orchestrated groupings betrays each flower's individual frailty, and yet together the operate as an endless force destined to grow and multiply. Intent on taking over the space, Darkness Doesn't Rise To The Sun, But We Do bursts through the conerete tall and defiant yet still existing mere inches from the ground.
My dearest sister,
It has been a long time since we last wrote to each other. I often think of you, I have so many things to tell you. Today I wanted to share with you the exhibition of the sculptor Esmaa Mohamoud, It Cannot Always Be Night, because it resonates with many of the moments we spent together.
Remember the rattan chair from the show we listened to as kids? 'A Seat Above the Table' (Regina King) reminds me of when we wanted curl up in its elegance, its high seat, its curves. Here, made gigantic, this chair becomes the true embodiment of what this actress represents: a larger-than-life woman who has reached an unattainable pinnacle in her career, and who is recognized and adored by many. The fact that Regina King lent her voice to brothers Huey and Riley Freeman in 'The Boondocks' shows her versatility and always brings me to that bond that unites us.
The intimacy of our sisterly bond leads me to tell you about The Night That I Looked At You, a piece in which the presence of two people is imagined via two durags, installed on the wall as if they were amidst a secret conversation. When we were in high school, we saw a lot of boys our parents would have called thugs wearing them, while we now know that durags are mostly worn to protect the waves in our hair. This sculpture is simple, but it is full of tenderness: it is at night that these people would have done their “thuging” but I prefer to think that the night grants them an intimacy that may be impossible in the daytime because of their so-called threatening appearance. This also reminds me of when we seal our hair under silk scarves before going to sleep: perhaps they are next to each other, sharing some secrets before dozing off? The night allows them the chance to be seen by one another in a particular way, like those games we used to play as children, when we shared the same bed.
Speaking of darkness, 'Boogeyman' is a sound installation where one hears laughter inside a totally blackened room. The story of the 'Boogeyman' is told to children to scare them of the dangers of the night, describing a very large male figure (Mètminwi, the Haitian 'Boogeyman' is two stories tall) who punishes or even eats disobedient children. In Esmaa’s case, the blackness associated with the 'Boogeyman' is twofold, it stems from her earliest recollection of experiencing an instance of racism (having grown up in London, Ontario, a predominantly white city) and the fear of Blackness. As a child, a (white) classmate told Esmaa that her father was the Boogeyman, and that’s how she came to understand how white people are not only afraid of Black people, but also of their joy. Like when we laugh uproariously together and we are being scolded for being too loud, when in fact it’s our joy that really pierces their ears.
Finally, I end my missive by telling you about Darkness Doesn’t Rise To The Sun, But We Do. While returning home from walking the dog, I saw a gigantic billboard for a lawn and turf treatment company with a person lounging in their yard while another person is bended over a bunch of dandelions with a spray can of pesticide: “Get rid of the dandelions...? Done!” The hurry of getting rid of dandelions as if they were an unwanted weed, when in reality they are flowers of many benefits, reminds me of how our lives as Black people are in constant danger of being eliminated, despite our countless contributions to society. But this flower is incredibly resilient, its seeds sow with the wind; just like it, we will continue to survive and thrive.
I hope to see you again very soon, we still have a lot of joy and memories to live together. I wish that we can, just like Esmaa Mohamoud said, lie in a field of flowers forever.
Your little sister,
- Curatorial text written by eunice belidor