Kavi Gupta presents Let Them Consume Me in the Light, a solo exhibition of new works by internationally acclaimed conceptual artist Esmaa Mohamoud. The exhibition examines what Mohamoud calls “Black body politics” – a web of interconnected personal, social, economic, and historical factors that shape how Blackness is perceived by Black people and nonBlack people alike. The title alludes to the inevitability that Black cultural products and their creators will be exploited by majoritarian society. “They’re already gonna consume us, it might as well be out in the open,” Mohamoud says.
“They should consume us in the light of the truth, in the light of racial injustice, in the light of the things we don’t usually want to talk about. There are many lights this exhibition can hold.”
Four paradoxical sculptural phenomena fill the gallery: an elegant but inaccessibly tall peacock chair; a marvelous but un-drivable pink Cadillac; an enchanting but lifeless prairie of black steel dandelions; and the visages of three young African girls, tenderly carved from shea butter. The utilitarian functionality of Mohamoud’s uncanny creations has been obliterated, leaving only their artifice to behold.
Like monuments to nostalgia lining a road to nirvana, they make longing and nothingness seem eerily the same. A Seat Above the Table (Angela Bassett), Mohamoud’s 12-foot-tall rattan peacock chair, is named in honor of an actress who towers over her contemporaries, deserving not only a seat at the table but a seat high above it. Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton was famously photographed sitting in such a chair during the height of the 1960s Civil Rights Era, transforming it from an ordinary piece of furniture into an icon of pride and power. With its seat raised absurdly beyond the reach of a sitter, Mohamoud’s peacock chair takes on a double meaning that infers the hollowness that often underlies symbols. Its rattan bars project penitent shadows on the walls—a reminder that the original peacock chairs were woven by prisoners in colonial Asia (particularly the Philippines) and then sold to visiting dignitaries, with the revenue channeled back into the prisons.
Mohamoud’s colossal pink Cadillac sculpture, titled Nirvana (Oh, Sweet Elham), perches on steel rims so massive that viewers can walk under its glossy chassis. From there, they can see that the guts of the car have been removed, rendering it useless as a conveyance. The work was initially inspired by a miniature black Cadillac VHS tape rewinder once owned by Mohamoud’s grandmother Elham. Examining her childhood memories of watching movies with her grandmother and rewinding them in that little car prompted Mohamoud to research how Cadillacs became an iconic part of Black culture. She learned how Black people were systematically barred from purchasing luxury automobiles in the early 20th century.