The juxtaposition of symbols and images which would otherwise be considered oxymorons lie together in harmony in a cosmogony revealing the malleability of historic narration. Umar Rashid has invested almost two decades and a vast array of media, languages, and visions in building up his own fictional universe. His work restores a sensation of fluidity of identity in a concept as fictional as history, which, unearthed from its hegemonic fixation, unsettles the coordinates of the viewer.
The same fluidity is also applied to Rashid himself, who embodies different characters according to the medium he plays with: Hi-Fidel for rapping, Kent Cyclone for partying, and Frohawk Two Feathers for visual artmaking. Multidisciplinary in many ways, Rashid is an artist and a dedicated historian and cosmographer of his own world, the Frenglish Empire (1648–1880). This realm’s plethora of rival states and factions have warred for centuries across many aesthetic cues from both the historical and the contemporary to create reality-bending works. Employing symbolism from Egyptian hieroglyphs to Native American ledger art to Spanish colonial manuscript illustrations to Afrofuturism and 1980s and ‘90s hip-hop, Rashid’s remastered world narratives challenge mainstream historiographies and their pervasive imperialist legacies.
As part of Sharjah Biennial 15, Rashid presents a series of tapestries that unfold through another harrowing chapter in the Frenglish Empire’s history. In the area currently known as Denver, Colorado, circa 1794, the Frenglish allied with the Arapaho Nation and Cheyenne peoples against the North American Spanish Empire. Escalating into a total war over gold and dominion, Indigenous sovereignty once again hangs from a thread. The artist depicts this saga in bombastic detail, with the conflict’s factions immortalized across their many last stands and death throes. Through the work, Rashid weaves a cautionary tale against greed, hubris, and false allies that rings true across any number of alternate and contemporary realities.
On the pages of Arts of the Working Class, Rashid shares his most recent imagery of phantasmagoric alliances between gods, soldiers, and animals to sit back and find different places of belonging, which one would eventually stop searching for. As a result of his encyclopedic knowledge of global colonial history, he conjures up new fanciful stories. His sarcasm takes on the injustices underlining the roles of race, gender, class, and power in the stories of what was, but was not recorded, what was invisible, and what could have been: an harmony of beings.
- IMAGE CREDITS
Cover: Umar Rashid, P.R.O.M 1 (People’s Revolutionary Organizational Movement. , The color of youth is crisp champagne. 2022.
fig. 1: Umar Rashid, captain sits calmly as he destroys a Frenglish soldier with his eye laser and surrounded by the symbols of his faith.
The war flag of the Spanish frontier army in the Rocky Mountains. (Based on the Asafo company flags of Ghana.)
fig. 2: Umar Rashid, Terror Forming. (1st Movement. Old San Juan. 18th Century), 2022.