No other boxer in boxing history has ever been more glorified than Muhammad Ali. And the reason is simple: Muhammad Ali has always been a symbol, a timeless cultural icon whose charisma clearly transcends the ropes of the ring. Three times world heavyweight champion, self-proclaimed The Greatest, a social activist and a philanthropist, Muhammad Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942; originally known as Cassius Clay, he changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964. Boasting an extraordinary agility and an enviable footwork – his motto “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” made history – Ali brought grace and beauty to the box becoming one of the most famous as well as celebrated athletes of all time.
Involved in several historic matches such as those with Joe Frazier and George Foreman, he won the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. In 1967, three years after he had won the World Heavyweight Championship, Ali refused to be conscripted into the US military on the basis of his religious belief and opposition to the Vietnam War provoking outrage from the public.
Despite suffering increasing physical disability, for the last 25 years Ali has worked tirelessly for many humanitarian causes, including relief of poverty, education, adoption, race relations, and encouraging people of all races to understand and respect each other. A peace campaigner since the 60s, Ali worked alongside black activists to try to end race discrimination in the US, remaining an ambassador for race relations under Obama’s administration.
Appointed by former President Jimmy Carter “Mr International Friendship”, in 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Amnesty International have also given him their Lifetime Achievement Award and the Secretary-General of the UN bestowed him with the citation United Nations Messenger of Peace.
To celebrate Ali’s 70th birthday, Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery has kicked off In the Rings with Ali, a major exhibition with contributions from photographers and artists worldwide. Conceived by Dutch photographer Christina Jansen – who first met and photographed Ali in 1986 – and curated by the internationally renowned independent art advisor and curator, Sandra Higgins, the exhibition includes a wide selection of photographs and paintings of Ali at different stages of his life alongside audio and video installations, poetry and memorabilia, recording not just his contribution to sport but also his extraordinary humanitarian work through the decades. Among the artists involved in the exhibition are: Ken Regan, Michael Gaffney, Sonia Katchian, Neil Leifer, Carl Fischer, Christina Jansen, TerryO’Neill, George Kalinsky, Chris Smith, Graham Wood, Neil Kenlock, Chris Gollon, Roberto Rabanne and Duncan MacAskill.
1883 attended the opening private view on July 19th in the presence of Ali’s brother, Rahaman Ali and delegations of the British, American and Dutch Olympic teams. The exhibition organizers and sponsors are teaming up with ex-boxers Oliver Wilson and Rod Douglas to deliver The Muhammad Ali Outreach Programme, which will work with deserving young boxers from Holland and England. All artworks at the In the Rings with Ali exhibition will be for sale and a percentage of the profits will be donated to Amnesty International, Parkinson’s Research, and to a local boxing club in East London.
In the Rings with Ali will be on display during the London Olympics at Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery,
E3 2NT London.
Gallery open to public from 20th–26th July,
13th–28th August, Thu, Fri 5–9pm;
Sat, Sun 12–5pm.
Also open to the public from September 8th.
Opening times: 5–9pm (Thursday, Friday),
12–5pm (Saturday, Sunday).
More informations can be found here.
Words by Jacopo Nuvolari