What happens when you juxtapose the straightforward approach of sports with the complex power dynamics and identity politics of race? Ask Toronto-based artist Esmaa Mohamoud, whose towering, regal work A Seat Above the Table (Warren Moon) has recently been acquired and is on view now at the AGO. You may remember Mohamoud for her critically acclaimed works One of the Boys and Heavy, Heavy (Hoop Dreams), which were featured in our 2017 exhibition Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood.
Currently located on Level 2 in the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art (Gallery 227), A Seat Above the Table (Warren Moon) is a three-metre-tall woven black rattan chair inspired by the intriguing life of a famous athlete, Warren Moon. We sat down with Mohamoud to learn more about the piece and her unique approach to artistic practice.
AGO: A Seat Above the Table was inspired by the story of pro football quarterback Warren Moon. How are his life and career reflected in the piece?
Mohamoud: Warren Moon’s career is remarkable. He had to overcome many obstacles during his years playing football before becoming the only Black quarterback to be inducted in both the NFL and CFL Hall of Fame. A Seat Above the Table (Warren Moon) stands as an oxymoron; it indicates a pinnacle that is too high to be reached. A Seat Above the Table not only references the ignored achievements of Black athletes, but of Black people in general, by focusing on the lack of equal representation in many aspects. It directly aims to critique the dismissal of qualified Black people in their respective fields. Black people who are not celebrated for their great achievements, Black people who have to work twice as hard just to be half as good, Black people who are told to be content with a silent seat at the table. The fact that the chair rises so high questions the need for validation on an unfair playing field. Moreover, the seat questions the validity of the table, and why we use it to measure our success and accomplishments.
AGO: Most of your work to date focuses on issues concerning Black male identity and experiences. Do you have any plans to create work that pertains to women?
Mohamoud: Yes, I do. My next body of work, Never Seen Father Weep, involves pieces that tackle topics from the Black female perspective.
AGO: Your work utilizes many different materials and media. How do you approach the process of bringing an idea to life?
Mohamoud: My approach to artmaking is fairly methodical. First an idea comes to mind. I sit with it for months at a time – this is the hard part. I refine the idea in my head and select the appropriate materials to execute the work in the most effective way possible. For the most part, my materials are all over the map. I don’t like to limit the potential of a work to a material, as material exploration is one of my favourite parts of artmaking. I allow the work to select the materials. From there I create a plan to bring the work from an idea in my mind to a physical piece.
On your next visit to the AGO, stop by to see A Seat Above the Table (Warren Moon) on Level 2 in the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art (Gallery 227).
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