For centuries, boxing has been seen by some as the ultimate primal battle. Some even regard boxing, and the choreography played out in the ring, as the most beautiful of sports. Throughout history, noses have been bloodied and broken, and brains shaken loose in a sport that others see simply as barbaric and brutal. Yet regardless of whether we like boxing or not, it holds a fascination that cannot be denied.
Boxing provokes discussion and debate, and can divide any crowd into camps for and against. Looking at Nicolai Howalt’s images of young boys who’ve had a beating, sometimes a serious beating, we find something moving, as subjects stand before us in pairs, photographed immediately before and after their debut boxing match. We can feel the tension and anticipation they feel about what is about to happen. And we can empathize with them as they enter the ring, possibly for the very first time.
While boxing provides the framework, what we witness here is far more universal: young people facing an imminent challenge and searching for their place in this world—their identity. We can only try to decipher whether the boys here have found their place. Some look like they have. Others may have to search for their identity elsewhere, possibly in a less damaging, and damning, arena as the boxing ring.
Nicolai Howalt himself is an ex-boxer who has been through endless rounds in the ring. The artist’s own experiences have made it possible to create a project in which each pair of portraits emanates empathy and compassion for young boys on the cusp of adulthood.
Text by Lasse Krog Moller, Translation by Jane Rowley.
Nicolai Howalt is a visual artist. Boxer (2003) is a photographic portrait project about young boys shot before and after a match. His work is represented in major public and private collections, including Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, Spain; Museum of Fine Art Houston, U.S.; and The Danish Arts Foundation, Denmark. Howalt is represented by Martin Asbæk Gallery, Denmark, and Silverstein Gallery, New York.
On the Beauty of Violence, Guernica’s interview with Katherine Dunn.