August 2017 Issue - page 9

August 2017
Page 9
Urban Cowboys from Philadelphia Ride into International Spotlight
reality of the Fletcher Street Riding
Stables. In that version, “you have
this horizon and the possibility of
seeing far into the distance.” The
horizon Philadelphia’s cowboys
see is fractured by skyscrapers and
instead of vast, open spaces there
are streets choked with cars. Fur-
ther, the imaginary cowboy most
non-Americans visualize is white.
These cowboys are black. While
American movies created a world
in which the cowboys who helped
settle the country were white, the
reality is that cowboys were a
diverse population.
Cars and Cowboys Merge
Back in Paris, Bourouissa be-
gan working on the art that would
celebrate the people he had met in
Philadelphia. He created sculp-
tures from parts of cars—doors,
hoods, windows. He transferred the
pictures he had taken in Philadel-
phia onto the car parts. The faces
of Philadelphia cowboys and their
horses stare back from the hood of
a car, or a car door. He said that he
chose to use parts of French cars
for the sculptures because he want-
ed to illuminate the bridge between
American and French culture.
“Rap and hip-hop is an Amer-
ican style of music, but in France
they developed their own form,
which is very important there,” he
explained. He said that similarly
the French took the design and
influence of American cars and
“turned them into their own thing.”
In the interview with Enwezor,
Bourouissa described how the car
fit into his depiction of the Fletcher
Street cowboys. “The cowboy in a
way is a representation of domi-
nation and power,” he said. “The
car is too, but it also represents an
industry that is in crisis.”
“When I was in Paris in 2015,
I visited the gallery that takes care
of Mohamed’s art,” Sylvie Patry
said. “There were some pieces that
were made in Philadelphia, and
I was immediately struck by the
fact that it could be a very relevant
project for Philadelphia and for
the Barnes.”
In addition to sculpture and
drawings, Bourouissa worked with
the people at the stable on a special
event featuring the Fletcher Street
cowboys. Horse Day was a cele-
bration of the history, the people
and the horses of Fletcher Street.
He invited local Philadelphia
artists to help create costumes for
the horses, based on each rider’s
ideas. The July 2014 event, held
in the field across from the stables,
featured the costumed horses and
a variety of competitions, ranging
from obstacle courses to pony tag.
The costumes created for this event
are included in the Barnes exhi-
bition, along with a video of the
competition, which captures the ex-
citement and the crowds of people
who came out to watch.
“Mohamed is an artist who
is recognized internationally and
there is a resonance,” Patry said.
“We operate with the right level of
quality, and what was really inter-
esting to us is that it (Bourouissa’s
work) was rooted in Philadelphia.”
She said that when Dr. Barnes
began assembling his art collec-
tion, he envisioned opportunities
to reach out to a diverse audience
for both the enjoyment of the art
and for art education. “This idea
of focusing on a project that gives
such a prominence to this com-
munity is a way to tell everybody
that the Barnes goes back to this
founding principle that is even
more relevant today.”
Lasting Impressions
Bourouissa said that the time
he spent in Philadelphia changed
him, especially in the way he thinks
about the historical space occupied
by cowboys in America. His focus
as an artist is often on marginalized
communities and the tensions that
exist both within them and beyond
their boundaries. “I decided to live
in the Fletcher Street community,”
he told Enwezor. “The ten-minute
walk each day from the house to
the stable was an interesting way
to discover exactly how the city
works, the relationship between the
different neighborhoods.” He could
see what he called fragmentation
and segregation, and through his
daily walks he was able to feel it
and understand how it affected the
people at Fletcher Street.
“I think it’s really something
that moved me a lot,” Patry said
about the Urban Riders exhibit.
“I’ve been able to witness the way
he works, and I was absolutely
sure that it was not about finding
a subject and exploiting it.”
She believes that Dr. Barnes
himself would enthusiastically
applaud this exhibit. “Barnes
when he created the foundation
and even before that, he was
very committed to the African
American community. This idea
of focusing on a project that gives
such a prominence to this com-
munity is a way to tell everybody
that the Barnes goes back to this
founding principle that is even
more relevant today.”
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