Esmaa Mohamoud The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us)

    Esmaa Mohamoud, The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us), (bronze), installation view, Harbour Square Park, Toronto, 2022. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Esmaa Mohamoud, The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us), (bronze), installation view, Harbour Square Park, Toronto, 2022. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

Focusing on the physical connection between Black male bodies by amplifying the symbol of the du-rag, Esmaa Mohamoud confronts the dynamics of gender and race. Both of the components of her two-part commissioned project—a massive photographic mural on Bay Street, unveiled in June 2021 and on view until April 30, 2024, and a bronze sculpture installed at nearby Harbour Square Park, unveiled in September 2022 and on view until September 15, 2025—assert a commanding occupation of public space. Foregrounding the powerful symbol of the du-rag, the Toronto- and Markham-based artist opens a dialogue about systemic inequity, while signalling positive change.

Mohamoud’s multidisciplinary practice speaks to the historical precedents that incessantly propagate power imbalances. She explores how racialized bodies navigate complex social, political, and cultural landscapes, as well as the ongoing paradoxes of Blackness—its hypervisibility and invisibility. Addressing the racial disparities that are frequently encountered, performed, and resisted, the African Canadian artist offers a meditative reflection on interpersonal relations as they continue to be reimagined and redefined. For The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us By Us) (2020–22), Mohamoud shifts her focus from the institutional context of a gallery or museum to present her work in civic space—where it is always accessible to all people. Comprised of a photographic image and an interrelated sculpture, her project explores the relationship between two Black male subjects. Standing in the water of Lake Ontario, the men in the photograph are joined to one another with a two-headed du-rag, which is also the subject of the striking new sculpture. Mohamoud describes her project concept:

“Ultimately my goal is to address ideas of Black intimacy and vulnerability in a way that highlights both the closeness and the fragility of Black men. Black bodies are often the focus of a voyeuristic, dehumanizing gaze from non-Black people, and as such, I don’t usually reveal the subject’s face within my works. But in this case, the image’s massive scale shifts the power dynamic and grants the subjects agency and confidence to return the viewers gaze. Looking over their shoulders, the men challenge viewers to consider the ways in which they cast their gaze upon the Black body. FUBU pushes against racialized depictions of Black men—which often focus on the subjects engaged in acts of labour or conflict—by positioning them as boldly united figures asserting their presence in the physical and cultural landscape.

Placed near the waterfront with its densely populated leisure destinations, Mohamoud’s photographic mural and bronze sculpture will be on display over the span of two years. As people around the globe deface, topple, and remove memorials that venerate the protagonists of racism, enslavement, colonization, and genocide, space is created for authentic narratives to emerge. The Brotherhood FUBU refutes imperialist traditions and offers spirited gestures that celebrate the cultures and communities oppressed by such structures. The work opens critical conversation about the racist systems that require radical change, and it stands for the necessary changes that are, hopefully, on the horizon.

Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein

Supported by the City of Toronto, Cindy and Shon Barnett, Dara and Marvin Singer, Partners in Art (Founding Patron). Part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021–2022

Esmaa Mohamoud (Canadian, b. 1992), is a Toronto-based, African Canadian multidisciplinary artist working in photography, sculpture, installation, and performance, whose work investigates Black body politics. She holds a BFA from Western University (2014) and an MFA from OCAD University (2016). She has recently exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Montreal. Upcoming exhibitions include: To the Hoop: Basketball and Contemporary Art, Weatherspoon Art Museum, UNCG, Greensboro (NC, USA); Garmenting: Costume and Contemporary Art, Museum of Arts and Design, New York; and Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina (SK, Canada). In 2021–23, Esmaa Mohamoud: To Play In The Face of Certain Defeat, will travel to the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Art Gallery of Ottawa, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery from the organizing venue, Museum London (London, ON). Mohamoud is represented by Georgia Scherman Projects.


The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us)

My name is Esmaa Mohamoud, and I’m speaking from my studio in Markham, Ontario. I am a multi-disciplinary artist and my work investigates Black body politics, depicting aesthetically the paradoxes of Blackness, its hyper-visibility and invisibility, concerning myself with the ways in which racialized bodies navigate spaces as figures where complex gender and racial dynamics are confronted, performed, and reimagined.

Through a range of media which includes photography, sculpture, installation, and performance, my imagery suggests deeper forces at play in games like basketball and football, exploring how race and sports also function together as a means of social mobility and protest. Drawing on materials from the industries of sports, construction, and fashion, from used football helmets and textiles to concrete and repurposed chain and metals, my work aims to unveil how the plantation slavery system and its post-slave expressions have both defied and supported conditions of human bondage, both mental and physical, yet also built communities of resistance and resiliency.

The Brotherhood FUBU was created in 2021. It is a large-scale image involving two men who appear to be friends/brothers, standing in the body of water of Lake Ontario. These men are connected to one another through the use of a two headed du-rag. The Brotherhood is a photographic series that explores the intimacy between two Black male subjects. In the image, they are looking over their shoulder and returning the gaze back to the viewer. I wanted to challenge the idea of Black intimacy and its vulnerability in a way that showcases the subjects’ closeness, while highlighting the fragility of Black men. The idea came to me after I observed my older brother teach my younger brother how to tie a du-rag. What I learned in the process of shooting the work is that shooting in the lake was a lot harder than it appeared to be. I was neck-deep in the water to capture the subjects and I found it to be difficult as the water was extremely cold.

In returning the gaze back at the viewer on such a scale, the viewer is asked to think about the ways in which we cast our gaze upon the Black body. So often Black bodies are subject to the voyeuristic gaze from non-Blacks. The gaze itself dehumanizes the Black body and reduces it to the “other.” I wanted to grant agency and confidence to the subject in returning the gaze. Usually in my practice, I do not reveal the face of the subject, as I don’t want to subject the subject to the scrutiny of the viewer. In this case, I did want to show their faces because the scale of the work challenges the viewer and the power dynamic. Black bodies have popularly been depicted in landscape in the form of labour. FUBU aims to push against the correlation between Black bodies and Black labour and seeks to normalize Black bodies just existing in landscape.