Exhibition Pick: Abdi Farah

Julien Burns looks at Abdi Farah’s solo exhibition at Staple Goods, which anticipates the pageantry of Super Bowl 50 and Fat Tuesday.

Installation view of Abdi Farah’s “Rivalry Week” at Staple Goods, New Orleans. Courtesy the artist.

Abdi Farah
Staple Goods
1340 St. Roch Avenue
January 9 - February 7, 2016

This Sunday, the kickoff of Super Bowl 50 will coincide with the rolling of the Krewe of Bacchus. As New Orleanians prepare with bags of Tostitos and glitter-by-the-pound, Abdi Farah is meditating on the city’s twin loves of football and pageantry at Staple Goods.

In “Rivalry Week,” Farah deconstructs the form of the school-pride banner. His fabric works use a wide range of techniques—yawning voids lined with fringe, oppressive repetition of words and shapes, destroyed lettering—to provide visceral impact and to expose the cross-currents of identity that reinforce and are reinforced by high school football. Each work reveals a different paradox—the self-righteousness of teamwork versus the success it can create for individuals; the stereotyping of indigenous peoples as mascots versus the beauty of the resulting symbols; the empowerment of the competitive spirit versus the failure of the American education system; and the creative formation of black heroes versus the cultural legacy of white supremacy. Throughout is a dedication to handicraft, with hand stitching and luxurious materials paying homage to New Orleans’ deep traditions of seamstry and costuming.

While straightforward, “Rivalry Week” avoids preachiness because it makes no claims at universality. Farah—a Baltimore native—first became interested in New Orleans’ high school football communities through a coincidence: local high school George Washington Carver shares its name and colors with his own alma mater. But beyond this, Farah says, the schools could not have been more different. “Rivalry Week” similarly allows room for the diversity of identities that history and locality can create out of the shared fabric of high school football.