♪ Here is a Strange and Bitter Crop ♪♪brings together three specific histories that confront homophobia and racism in order to dismantle mechanisms of domination: the protest songStrange Fruit most famously sung by Billie Holiday as a cry to halt the lynching of African Americans; the first professional footballer to be openly gay, Justin Fashanu, who tragically ended his life in Hackney by hanging himself; and a speech by Malcolm X where he states “The fault is not with the puppet, but with the one who pulls the strings”. Ababri assembles a narrativewhere power, sex and sport converge in order to closely examine violence, domination and control in the role of display and representation.
The installation includes a series of drawings; a chain of dancing figures painted directly on the wall; a sculptural form functioning as a barrier to restrict movement as well as a football enclosure; an audio piece of boisterously cheering football fans; and a macabre performance by three young men embodying characteristics of Holiday, Fashanu and Malcolm X. The exhibition’s central point are the 6 intimate and erotically explicit drawings entitled Beautiful Fruit, inspired by pornographic films of gay black men engaged in sexual acts with each other. The drawings attempt to dislodge the black body from tropes of blackness and hyper-masculinity, such as athleticism and animalism, which have been deeply inscribed by the Western heterosexual and racialised colonial gaze. The exhibition positions the arena of sport as a site for display of the athletic black body. The football pitch typically supports an acceptance of violence and hetero-normative masculinity. However, Ababri’s installation makes visible desires and fears about blackness and the homoerotic within sport. The artist aims to thwart oppressive social dynamics and normative gender roles by highlighting the influence of violence on the forms of art history and on cultural identities.
SPACE is working in partnership with Glassbox gallery in Paris to generate a high-profile exchange between London and Paris in support of Ababri’s work.
A commissioned essay by James Smalls, Professor of Art History and Theory, and Affiliate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will be available at the gallery and online from 27 September.