REVIEW: The Draft

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. 

REVIEW: Detroitography talk + exhibit

Alex Hill, the founder of Detroitography, spoke to a packed room inside the South Thayer Building about putting an emphasis on the human side of statistics and big data.

Although not a native of Detroit, Alex has been able to fuse his background in medical anthropology with his current work at the Wayne State Pediatric Research Center and love of statistics to create a number of incredible maps of Detroit.

Where's the nearest Starbucks?
Where’s the nearest Starbucks?

All of the maps are created using open source data to make them accessible to everyone. The aim, as Alex explained, is to present data in a way that shows the actual implications and makes it relevant to people.

When bringing up the Detroit bankruptcy–the largest municipal bankruptcy in history at 17 billion dollars–Alex addressed how the water shutoff was a fatal flaw in looking at data. While the city saw that they could save over 100 million dollars by confronting delinquent accounts, no one thought to consider the fact that the majority of delinquent accounts were owned by people that could not pay them off.


The rest of Alex’s sleek red, white and black presentation addressed the overarching question: how do we relate data not just to other data, but to people?

There is a risk of drowning in big data, as he explained, and it is up to us to figure out how the data relates to human beings. One of the biggest flaws about statistics is the belief that algorithms are completely objective. This is completely false–someone had to write the code for that algorithm, and they chose all the variables. Nothing is completely unbiased.


Numbers don’t motivate, but the connection to the people that correspond to those numbers. One map of the MidCassTown Corridor was a collection of responses from residents of that very corridor. Some residents called it the Cass Corridor, and some called it Midtown. Mapping the data showed the Midtown-naming residents to be in the more affluent, modernized areas. As one individual stated: “They [white people] call it Midtown.”

Detroitography is an interesting concept, there’s no doubt about that. Will it be effective? Will mapping data about Detroit have a positive impact on policy decisions for the city, or will it turn out to be simply another aesthetically pleasing project related to the Motor City?