Esmaa Mohamoud is a 25-year-old, Toronto-based artist who dresses basketball players in jersey/ball gown hybrids as a way to explore masculinity, performance of gender within race and the culture of athleticism. Her work, entitled “One of the Boys,” recently showed in Miami and will soon show at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the ltd Los Angeles in L.A..
While growing up as a tomboy with immigrant parents, Mohamoud’s mother would insist that she wear a dress before playing outside. Mohamoud would sometimes put on a basketball jersey over her dresses, with her mom critically commenting that she was not “one of the boys.”
Later on in life, Mohamoud realized that many of her male friends of color wouldn’t have been able to attend secondary education without a sports scholarship. “That was a scary reality for many young black people,” she said in a recent profile.
One of her most recent projects depicts two young black people wearing combination basketball jerseys and ball gowns. She said, “Most people, when they see my work, assume that I’m a man. My perspective comes from my own masculinity. Even though I am a woman, I am masculine as well.”
Some people also assume that the two people in her jersey-gown photos are both men, but they’re not: One is male and the other is female.
“It was actually quite hard to find a black man who was willing to put on a dress,” she said, adding that she only got a friend’s little brother to model for her pictures after she had asked a dozen other people. “I find this work important right now, because black masculinity is so fragile that just wearing a garment really alarms a lot of black men,” she added.
Mohamoud said that her work is influenced by African American artist David Hammons, whose work focuses on black civil rights, social bondage and resistance; and artist Richard Serra whose minimalist sculptors invite the viewer to consider their role in social constructions of power and influence.
Images by Esmaa Mohamoud