With tears streaming down her face, my mother told me I was quitting football. Overprotectiveness won out over the single mother’s desire to toughen up her son. I feigned disappointment and hid my profound relief. Football terrified me. The looming spectre of a bone-crushing tackle mixed with the persistent jeers of the infinitely cooler, meaner, more experienced players kept my stomach in knots throughout every practice and game. Ironically, at the time my mom ended my football career I was just starting to gain my footing; starting to enjoy the pain a bit; starting to get that sinister smirk that would cross a player’s face after a particularly vicious hit; beginning to gain acceptance from my teammates; those boys I both feared and admired.
By ruminating on the players and surrounding accoutrement of high school football in New Orleans, I hope to unpack my tenuous relationship to stereotypical notions of masculinity, in particular Black American masculinity. Much of my work incorporates the sewing of used clothes and fabrics, often in colors and sheens reductively described as feminine. The embrace of this “woman’s work” honors the single mothers that raised so many of us, and serves as a necessary foil to the hyperbolic performance of machismo on the football field.
Akin to the formidable presence of an intimidating athlete, my larger-than- life figurative collages and wall-sized reinterpretations of school flags and championship banners dominate the viewer. The exaggerated size parrots the football industry’s excess and bombast, situating my work within larger discussions around the capitalistic co-opting of black bodies globally. The process of deconstructing, poking holes, and re-creating with flaccid fabric a seemingly indomitable and inflated body critiques the structures of power and influence built upon it. Materially imploding and crumpling under their own weight, these bodies reveal their underlying desperation and vulnerability.
Baltimore native, Abdi Farah, began his art education at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, Maryland. Abdi received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, graduating with honors. Farah has been fortunate to exhibit art across the country and internationally at institutions including, the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Margulies Collection; The Institute for American Universities in Aix en Provence, France; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans, to name a few; and highlighted by a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Abdi is a 2005 Presidential Scholar in the Arts, a recipient of the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship through the Yale Norfolk School of Music and Art, a 2017 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture participant and a 2021 Black Rock Senegal Artist-In-Residence. In 2018 Abdi received his MFA in painting from Tulane University in New Orleans where he continues to live and work.