I was first introduced to The Draft exhibition by African-Canadian artist Esmaa Mohamoud just around a year ago. I was far from the familiar, quaint Ann Arbor, in the bustling international hub entirely different country to be precise! While that statement exaggerates what was essentially a weekend jaunt to Toronto, there is no exaggeration when describing how impressive this series of work was when I first saw it. Thankfully our campus was bestowed the privilege earlier this fall to host Mohamoud’s amazing series of work, and I was eager to compare my experience viewing it in a local setting to how it was displayed at the prestigious AGO in Toronto.
When I first arrived, although the gallery door was firmly locked, I was officially within the 10am-5pm time period that the gallery should be open to the public. Thankfully after quickly asking the front office about gallery they were more than willing to unlock it for me, so don’t be discouraged if you find yourself in a similar position.
The pieces were spread out between two rooms, with the first room being a dedicated space to show the exhibit, complete with both various sculptures and photographs. The second being a conference room with three of the large scale photographs hanging on the wall. The space in the first room was very well utilized, with a low sculpture placed in the middle activating and working in harmony with the pieces around the room. On the other hand, while the large-scale photography works certainly elevated the conference room they were hanging in, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed at how these meaningful photographs felt relegated to the same level as the generic abstract paintings used to spice up mid-tier hotels.
While I wouldn’t have guessed many of Mohamoud’s intentions with each piece without reading the description, her passion for basketball shines through in the way she handles this series. As for what I did glean from the description posted outside, the series meant to explore themes of “gender, race, empowerment and disillusionment” within the world of basketball. The white, deflated basketballs in the main sculpture are meant to represent the 30 NBA draft picks every year and the rusted chain hoop is meant to “suggest the weird allure and enmeshment of the past.” The photos of men in basketball jerseys and large ballroom-esque hoop skirts is a representation of Mohamoud’s complex feelings growing up as a girl immersed and in love with what was considered a “men’s sport,” and I also argue could be a statement on perceived masculinity in today’s sports world as well.
When the work was displayed in the AGO in Toronto, Mohamoud had the original models from the photographs in the series wear the same outfits and perform in the space. While I was not able to attend the performance itself, I did get a chance to see the dress in person, which we were not able to display here at UM. I found this to be truly unfortunate as the dress was, by far my favorite part of her work. It’s sheer size and volume are unable to be captured by the cropped photographs shown in the exhibit. Below is an image of the models wearing the dresses so viewers can get an idea of what they were like. While I would have loved to see one of the dresses on display in conjunction with the other pieces, I know that there were probably a long list of complications that kept from UM being able to do so, and the gallery space itself would have nearly been dominated by the dress’s physical size and presence even if it was somehow able to be displayed.
The Gallery is often rotating new and exciting exhibits, available right on campus free to students and the general public alike. The exhibit is the first door to your left upon entering the South Thayer building, and the building itself is directly across the street from the MLB and North Quad. Be sure to check out the upcoming exhibition as well, as the gallery is constantly rotating shows. I highly recommend taking the five to ten minutes that it takes to hop into the gallery any any day you need a quick artistic pick-me-up or shot of inspiration while walking around campus.