Nikko Washington grew up in a family of trained martial artists. Mastering discipline and control served him beyond the fact that he earned a black belt at a young age—harnessing the power of physical training and mental fortitude has elevated his practice to the next level. As Ciera McKissick writes in the exhibition text, painting “is a lot like fighting—a very physical activity with rhythmic strokes like jabs, and quick movements around the canvas.”
In “Fight of the Century,” the Hyde Park-raised multidisciplinary artist—think drawing, painting, screen printing, and graphic design (he has created album covers for a wide range of hip-hop artists including Vic Mensa and Noname)—highlights the connections between boxing and art while offering his own spin on depicting the Black experience. This exhibition, curated by Anna Cerniglia of Johalla Projects in partnership with The New Vanguard, fills a vast industrial space on the second floor of Salt Shed in a sort of tribute to Black athletes past and present.
Darkness prevails. Vivid greens, royal blues, and purplish reds bring to life expressive figures that jump out of the canvas. Their skin is glowing, their eyes are piercing, their fists are tight, and their muscles are popping. Wonder Woman shows Serena Williams in action—she wears a bright yellow outfit and is posed against a blue background. Larger Than Life features a boxer—his shadow is towering, and a skull lies on the ground. The Fighter VI is a life-size wood cutout of a boxer. In the adjacent gallery, an entire wall is illuminated like some sort of ritual: Christ Muhammed is about legendary fighter Muhammad Ali—his face glorified on six LED screens that form the shape of a cross.
Portraits and physical objects create a dynamic landscape that showcases the Black body within sports, history, the media, and everyday life—where issues of ownership, agency, and identity arise. Washington’s work is about bringing a culture shift. Dismantling inequality, systematic racism, violence, and oppression starts by unapologetically putting it in your face.
At the unexpected intersection of boxing and art, “Fight of the Century” is an emotionally intense exhibition that brings a lot to the table: Black athletes’ legacies but also the dehumanization and double standards in the industry; the importance of resilience in art, in sports, and in life; and the fights we all have to deal with—physical or otherwise. Ultimately, it’s about finding peace.
“Fight of the Century”
Through 5/14: Salt Shed, 1357 N. Elston, by appointment only, email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule, johallaprojects.com/Fight-of-the-Century
The Hyde Park-raised artist wants to put his own spin on depicting the black experience.
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