The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. – Muhammad Ali
A word from one of the most widely quoted and eloquent boxers in the history of the sport seems appropriate. For Ali, boxing was a metaphor for life: battles won and lost in the ring, belief in self, living life to its fullest. So too, the artists whose work is represented in this exhibition see boxing as metaphors for male violence, self-acceptance, and community.
When Oshawa was named host of the boxing events for the 2015 PanAm Games, it was natural for the RMG to coordinate an exhibition around the theme of boxing, a sport that is commonly referred to as The Sweet Science (a term coined by the British journalist and sportswriter Pierce Egan in the early 1800s). Boxing has attracted artists since the Mesopotamian era, and despite its brutal nature—or perhaps because of it—has inspired, by way of its dramatic movement, power, and grace, responses through literature, art and drama. In her book about the cultural history of boxing, Kasia Boddy writes about the long established concepts that accompany it, including “ideas about courage and honour, ritual and spectatorship, beauty and the grotesque.” Bill Ford, a trainer at Oshawa’s Motor City Boxing Club, and who, at 69 has been both inside the ring and ringside as a boxer or trainer for the better part of three decades, explains that boxing isn’t about fighting or hitting, but a lifestyle that allows those who train diligently to become different people.
A less than full knowledge of boxing does not prevent an appreciation of the work of those who represent it with paint, bronze, graphite, or photography. This exhibition spans over 100 years of the depiction of boxing—including boxing as a form of exercise in WWI, to cubist depictions of pugilists, a contemporary video of a boxer beating herself, and a fantasy painting of a caped boxer.
We are grateful for funding from The Department of Canadian Heritage, Museums Assistance Program in support of Boxing: The Sweet Science.