Curated by Astria Suparak
VisArts, Rockville, Maryland
May 23 – July 1, 2018
bit.ly/powerforward_visarts (VisArts); bit.ly/power-forward (Suparak)

Artists: Haig Aivazian, Cara Erskine, Karen Kraven, Nicolas Lampert, Cait McKinney & Hazel Meyer, Gao Mingyan, Ayanah Moor, Macon Reed, Zhang Qing

Discussants: Kevin Blackistone, Kavitha Davidson

Filmmakers: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, James Blagden, Miguel Calderón, Anil Dash, Kevin Jerome Everson, Ana Hušman, Paper Rad, Pied la Biche, Lisa Young

Sports are not a refuge from the “real world.” Sports have been and always are political. Who gets to play? Who is penalized for what? Which stadiums are built? Where? And with whose money? Eminent domain, organized labor, drug and gender testing, commercial sponsorships, tax breaks, bribery, and abuse scandals are just some of the ways power is flexed daily within what has been called a secular religion and a proxy war. The artists in this exhibition draw upon the hidden and political histories of sports to open up analyses of the social world.

The Olympic gold winning routines of Simone Biles, Nadia Comăneci, and Shannon Miller are abstractly relayed in the little-known shorthand used by gymnastics judges in Karen Kraven’s risograph prints. Conversely, the point-scoring stunts are stripped from the routines performed in Macon Reed’s video, leaving a series of exaggerated flourishes that accent the hyper-feminized sport of women’s gymnastics.

Athletes and sports advocates who have refused to be constrained by societal expectations of gender are celebrated by Cara Erskine. Whether admonished by the public for “unladylike” behavior, snubbed by sponsors, or forced to take humiliating sex verification tests (resulting, even, in the erasure of their world records), these gender outlaws and heroes have inspired, authored, and embodied Title IX, which ensures equal access to sports for millions of girls and women in the United States.

The elite sport of golf is brought to the commoners minus green fees via a video of Gao Mingyan roguishly using communal space. Similarly alluding to the disappearance of public land and the role of luxury real estate development, Zhang Qing stages an absurd soccer match in his cramped apartment, complete with professional players and a referee knocking over dishes and tripping on bedsheets.

Zhang’s multi-channel work of a domestic space recorded with surveillance equipment also brings up concerns about privacy. In Hazel Meyer and Cait McKinney’s collaborative drawings and texts, the unspoken intimacies and desires among women basketball players are brought to the surface.

Ayanah Moor ambiguously conflates racial divisions with competition in a large wall piece. And Haig Aivazian reveals the intricate web connecting athletics, nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, religion, and race. Aivazian’s collages parallel the way the U.S. represents itself through high-profile, international competition and military maneuvers.

Alternatives to the Washington NFL team’s racist name and visual identity are proposed by Nicolas Lampert, spotlighting fascinating histories of the sport, the region, social movements, Indigenous cultures, the U.S. government, and punk rock.

The title of this exhibition, Power Forward, refers to a position in basketball that emphasizes a combination of strength and skill. Traditionally, it has been the domain of lumbering, back-to-the-basket scorers and stout rebounders. But over the past decade it’s evolved into a role that requires increased quickness, defensive versatility, and outside shooting skills. In like manner, many of the artists in Power Forward are versatile in sports—as current or former athletes, as serious fans, and as makers inspired by athletics. The title also references the Black Panthers slogan, “All Power To The People” and the desire for shifts in the balance of power.



A Subjective, Contextual History of Washington, D.C. Pro Basketball
The NBA franchise currently based in Washington, D.C. has played in three major cities under six different names.  This project is a subjective, contextual history of the team and how it intertwines with civic issues, particularly: gun laws and violence, business and labor, real estate and gentrification, race, and class. Many of the stories don’t fit easily in one category, and issues often intersect.
Submit an object or image related to Wizards or Bullets history for display as part of this project. Send a photo of the object and a short explanation of what it is to: subjective.history.of.wizards (at) gmail (dot) com

Greatest Sports GIF Of All Time Contest
Join us for a contest for the “Sports G.G.O.A.T. (Greatest GIF of All Time),” to be decided by the audience in a NCAA tournament style bracket. Prizes will be awarded at the June 4th INCITE Sports book launch at Finnegan’s Wake Irish Pub in Rockville Town Square.
To participate, submit your favorite sports GIF, original or found, by May 30, 2018.



Friday, June 1, 7 – 9pm:
Exhibition Reception at VisArts

Monday, June 4, 6:30pm:
Greatest Sports GIF Contest, Sports Poetry Reading, & INCITE Sports book launch at Finnegan’s Wake Irish Pub, 100 Gibbs St, Rockville Town Square.
Join us for a contest for the “Sports G.G.O.A.T. (Greatest GIF of All Time),” to be decided by the audience in a NCAA tournament style bracket. Prizes will be awarded.
To participate, submit your favorite sports GIF, original or found, by May 30th. The event will also include readings of poetry made from re-edited television interviews of athletes (a project of writers Pasha Malla and Jeff Parker).

Saturday, June 23, 4 – 5:30pm:
Discussion: Sports and Politics at VisArts.
A discussion on sports and politics with Kevin Blackistone (national sports columnist, The Washington Post; panelist, ESPN’s “Around the Horn”) and Kavitha Davidson (columnist, espnW; contributor, ESPN The Magazine) . Topics may touch on recent protests, the realities and repercussions for athletes (both on and off-field), gender and religion in sports, the exploitative treatment of Washington’s NFL cheerleaders, and other local issues.

Wednesday, June 27, 9 – 10:30pm:
Film Screening: A Beautiful Game on VisArts’ rooftop (in case of rain: Buchanan Room)
Artists: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, James Blagden, Miguel Calderón, Anil Dash, Kevin Jerome Everson, Ana Hušman, Paper Rad, Pied la Biche, Lisa Young. Curated by Astria Suparak and Brett Kashmere.




World Cup Meets White Cube,” Leah Sandals, Canadian Art, July 4, 2018


“The sports world and the art world have long been divided in American society, though that gap has been bridged increasingly in recent years. Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson discovered a second career in photography; The Olympics brought four former competitors back this winter as artists-in-residence; NBA players are increasingly involved in designing their own sneakers.

A new exhibit at VisArts in Rockville called Power Forward is embracing that crossover, telling stories of sports in society”  – Noah Frank, “Sports, history, politics and art collide at new Rockville exhibition,” WTOP, May 31, 2018

CityTV, “Bodies” episode, Wave, Aug. 21, 2018