In basketball, a double dribble, an illegal move, is an act of gutsiness and desperation. With nowhere left to go, the player continues, at the cost of stopping the forward momentum of the game. Esmaa Mohamoud’s latest public artwork, Double Dribble, 2021, evokes just such a scene of impossible play, transforming a public walkway into a rainbow-hued basketball court that eschews all forms of straightforward, rule-bound competition. Everyone is allowed to participate.
Shiny vinyl base lines in bright green, sky blue, black, and neon pink traverse multiple planes, creating a fragmented, Escherlike court that stretches across the pavement and up onto the concrete supports framing the pathway. Hoops supporting long nets made of metal chains hang at dizzying heights or are clustered close together low enough for children to reach them. Their varied diameters—some standard-issue, others comically under- or oversize—at first seem absurd, but they also suggest how easily the sport’s infrastructure could be scaled to make it more accessible. In previous works, the artist detourned sports equipment and uniforms—casting basketballs in concrete, decorating football helmets with kente-cloth-inspired patterns, altering jerseys into Victorian ballgowns—to make them ironic, unusable, and, of course, beautiful. But here, Mohamoud creates an environment where viewers may take the place of the player and frequently do.
Mohamoud’s practice often interweaves the commodification of Black athletes with the history of transatlantic slavery, and Double Dribble raises questions about who is allowed to gather and play in public and who isn’t, either through dubious forms urban planning that remove public courts or fence off fields, more active kinds of policing that use racially motivated loitering laws, or the cordoning off of basketball hoops under the pretext of enforcing social distancing. The site of the installation, a recently redesigned public park built beneath a contentious elevated highway that runs through downtown Toronto, helps to underscore the ways that the rules of the city landscape, like the rules of the game, make bodily movement both urgent and prohibited.