A Fresh Take on Basketball by Morelos León Celis for NBA and Hennessy’s Event NBA Beyond The Lines

MASSIVart was given the opportunity by NBA and Hennessy to launch their exciting global partnership with a vibrant art experience: NBA Beyond The Lines – on October 1, 2 and 3, 2021 in Mexico. The three-day contemporary art exhibition will showcase local as well as world-renowned artists, demonstrating the vibrant spirit of basketball – beyond the sport.

For this tailor-made event, we hand-selected Morelos León Celis to create the program. Celis is a vibrant Mexican artist who finds his inspiration in sports. He shares more about the intimate connection between his art and basketball, as well as the work he will be presenting this weekend at NBA Beyond The Lines.

NBA Beyond The Lines Morelos Leon Celis Mexico City

Can you tell us more about your work as an artist?

A word I constantly use when referring to my work as an artist is a strategy. It certainly has a lot to do with the influence of play, but also with the way I have generated my work processes, close to phases of research, exploration, observation, and my individual, family, and community memory.

The objects, sculptures and videos that make up my work belong to a specific referential system, they live a kind of dislocation and strangeness thanks to a change of materials, scale or place. In my artistic work, I try to multiply materials, supports and media. I articulate signs through strategies based on a rigorous observation of certain codes and languages such as basketball.

What are your main inspirations?

My inspiration is the art that separates the notion of play from the notion of work, that is to say, to build a community of play as the philosopher Byung-Chul Han says.

Do you like basketball?

I am an artist from Oaxaca who comes from a town nestled in the mountains of the Mixteca Baja, whose only artistic and cultural reference was for many years the space of the municipal basketball court.

I have always liked basketball, and believe the playing field, through community appropriation, has mutated its character from a simple playful game to an epicenter of political, social and cultural activity.

As you know, the area where basketball courts are in towns is generally located within the limitations of the civic square, parallel to the atrium of the church and adjacent to the government palace; becoming a point where the bonds of coexistence are fostered and strengthened.

Ñuu Savi Basket NBA Beyond The Lines Morelos Leon Celis Mexico City


How is your love for this sport reflected in your creations?

The basketball court and music are closely related in the Mixtec region; the former is the rehearsal place par excellence for the latter. Oaxacan musical tradition is widely recognized, its wind orchestra is perhaps the most appreciated in the region and its schools are the most distinguished within the musical learning circuit of the state.

My aesthetic and conceptual incursions in my creations constantly allude to the gaming situation, to the musical notation and to the migratory condition of the Mixtec society. It is not by chance that in my artistic work the movements of the basketball players, pivots, pints and stops, are interpreted as gestures and displacements similar to those executed by the bees in their synchronization of movements for the attaining pollen. These same vital gestures are not far from the organizational potential of the migratory tradition of my people.

What limits do you like to challenge through your work?

I would like to confront the tensions between art and life, the rural versus the urban and the traditional versus the industrial.

NBA Beyond The Lines Morelos Leon Celis Mexico City


Can you tell us more about the pieces on display at NBA Beyond The Lines?

Basketball Musical Strategy New Belgrade is an action I shot in 2018 in Belgrade. The piece started from a collaboration with Serbian artist Predrag Terzić, who, in turn, had developed a series of drawings from graphics that take up the strategies of basketball.

Conceptually, the work is based on the codes of the game, its rules, and an action that responds, almost mathematically, to the possibility of executing it against an opposing team. From that reference, Terzić translates it to drawing and executes it from the logic of plastic conceptions. I articulated the internal logic and mechanics to move the musicians within the space of the court according to the sound, thanks to the translation and composition of the maestro Sergio Cano. For the realization of this piece, I directed five musicians in Belgrade who performed the score while moving on the basketball court copying the codes of the game’s strategy.

Ñuu Savi Basket is a sculptural work that I made in 2020, which is part of a series of baskets that address basketball as a current aspect of identity among native peoples of the state of Oaxaca. The work recalls the Ñuu Savi people (people of the rain) and the craft of the Mixtec artisans who work with palm.

Basketball Musical Strategy: Black Notes, Srbija (Serbia) is a sculptural work that I made in 2019, which is part of the series of black clay balls that provide a tribute to the countries and cities with a basketball tradition. This work is specifically dedicated to Serbia for its identity and national link around this sport.

Register for the event here.