Esmaa Mohamoud: To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat on view at the Art Gallery of Hamilton


Installation view of Esmaa Mohamoud: To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat, 2021. Photo: Julian Ross

Experience Toronto-based artist Esmaa Mohamoud’s vital new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton with free admission until August 31.

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. To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat aims to re-examine 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 high-level athletics, and the enforced play out 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.


Esmaa Mohamoud, Glorious Bones, 2018-19, 46 repurposed football helmets, African wax prints, faux soil, metal. Photo: Julian Ross

The dozen artworks in this exhibition consider a variety of concerns. Mohamoud’s appropriation of basketball jerseys within Victorian-era ballgowns, for example, complicates the sport’s fraught relationship with queer, gender-fluid, and female identities. Reconstructed football equipment, including branded black leather footballs and African wax-printed helmets, celebrate cultural plurality through their exuberant, diverse designs, while also protesting the staged enactment of Black violence for entertainment.

Before heading to the Gallery, visitors can preview the exhibition online with the AGH’s free Virtual Tour offering. Planning your visit to see it in-person? Enjoy complimentary tours Saturdays at 1:00 pm and Thursdays at 6:00 pm.


Esmaa Mohamoud, Heavy Heavy Hoop Dreams, 2016-19, 60 concrete basketballs, black Plexiglas. Photo: Julian Ross

Esmaa Mohamoud (Canadian, b. 1992), is a Toronto based African Canadian artist. She holds a BFA from Western University (2014) and an MFA from OCAD University (2016). Recently, Mohamoud has exhibited in at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Montreal. She is represented by Georgia Scherman Projects.

Curated by Matthew Kyba, Curator of Exhibitions at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat is organized and circulated by Museum London.

Esmaa Mohamoud: To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat
March 20 – October 24, 2021



Art Gallery of Hamilton
123 King Street West
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, L8P 4S8

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