I met Laura Wright at Pratt Park in 2013. She came with a group of teachers to box 2 times a week. She is a remarkable gal with a precise vision and the skills to achieve it.
Once I got the gym running, Laura came along and it was clear we were meant to collaborate. An excellent documentary and both of our visions created The Artist and the Boxer.
I really wanted our first community event to have no boxing in it. I wanted art to be showcased because I feel boxing completely embodies art…..I just wasn’t sure how to get that across. Laura took the reins and more importantly, she stepped out of the way and allowed this event to have a life of its own. She let the artists and event evolve…..an incredible ability to guide and not control…..a perfect skill for a boxer to develop.
Our first event was an amazing success and hugely empowering for the boxing and artist community.
We set our sights on a second event to celebrate one year of existence for Arcaro. Nikkita Oliver joined us in guiding the event into fruition and again a hugely inspirational night happened. We mixed boxing, poetry, music and dance. A cool mix of expression.
We will do more of these next year and I look forward to seeing how they evolve.
Please, get a cup of coffee, tea, beer or wine….sit back and read this incredibly inspirational piece about The Artist and the Boxer by Laura Wright!
Imagine. Imagine someone hurling paint-covered boxing gloves across a massive canvas; with unrestrained expression, each visceral punch leaves its mark of journey and impact on a once blank space. Never moving backward, this person uses every motion and movement to determine the next, never correcting and always building. In less than three minutes a story has been created. And is felt by any who stands in the wake of the fight.
This image is a cornerstone scene from the captivating documentary, “Cutie and the Boxer,” a movie that takes witness to Japanese artist couple Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, and their insatiable, often devastating desire to create art despite living a life of poverty.
Now imagine someone hurling a heavy bag over a basketball hoop every morning at 6am day in and day out at a local park just to create space for others to come and throw on some gloves and express themselves; no fitness center style mirrors or machines, simply a bag and some gloves at dawn. Never moving backward this person uses every experience of struggle and challenge to determine their next move, eventually building a beautiful gym and community of fighters that now makes up Arcaro Boxing. Another story has been created.
It was at this park, with Tricia Acaro Turton, that boxing discovered me, woke up a sleeping giant in me, and made me realize how much freedom I had yet to experience. I’ve been an artist, and even an athlete my whole life, but this—this was different. There was something about this form of expression, something about this community, and something about the sacred space of the ring that became muse to a vision I longed to see happen: an event that could gather all different sectors of community around the ring to celebrate the many things we are fighting for, and all the stunning ways in which we fight (boxing, spoken word, dance, freestyle, photography, painting etc). And it’s name? The Artist and the Boxer. While some visions and hopes come to fruition quickly, The Artist and the Boxer took time, like that of a pregnant woman who only after nine months is ready and able to push.
The vision was simple. Let us create a space and gives voice and metaphor to the fight and the struggle of becoming more of who we are in life and in the ring: poets, boxers, neighbors, humans. Let us create a space for us to widen our lens of self-ascribed identity, find commonalities, and cross unapologetically the imaginary and divisive barriers we build for ourselves and others. The ring would be our stage. Punching bags are our seats. The medium: our body, words, gloves, whatever we choose to speak.. To connect. To inspire. To name. To build. To come to the edge of death and live. To lay the map for another to travel. To inspire growth and healing. An emptying of story and an opening to others.
The process, however, not so simple. For it is the process that often takes the most work and the most time if it is close to our hearts, as this project was for my coach Tricia Turton and me. When I first saw the film, “Cutie and the Boxer,” I was so drawn to ‘Cutie’s’ story, a loose depiction of Niroko’s life—a fierce woman who’d been overlooked and under appreciated her whole life, especially by the one with whom she’d vowed eternity. Battling traditional gender roles and expectations, it is through Niroko’s art that she fights—for space, a sense of identity, for hope.
I am like Niroko. Composition books and metaphors were the lifeboat that got me through my share of painful and confusing experiences in my adolescence and beyond. While I was a fierce competitor and athlete growing up, off the court I was quiet, submissive, had trouble speaking up for myself, and barely making it. My pen and notebook were my survival. Through a series of traumatic and abusive experiences and relationships with men, I had became an expert at silence. I controlled my world and everyone around me with it. I knew how to hold my breath long enough to not make someone upset and lash out; I knew the darkness of being silenced in moments I tried to fight for myself. I lowered and cowered myself until the “storms” blew over. Silence was how I survived.
Until I started boxing, I had no idea how much my body had stored up and absorbed, taking in patterns of being like nutrients from the soil in order to survive. And though these seasons of silence and abuse in my life are long over, I still sit, wilted and uprooted most days, because I assumed the passing of time would make me upright. But in it all I never thought I was worthy of the fight. And so it is with boxing, a slow, methodical building, punch by punch, word by word, of something new. New patterns. New stories. I have found that there is a story, perhaps more than one, that has been stored up deep in my muscle memory that is finally speaking. Not through words, but rather through my gloves. Until I put on gloves and started throwing punches across my canvas, much like Ushio, did I realize the colors and patterns I was still holding onto inside. The simple act of expression allowed the perspective and awareness I needed to keep growing and not get stuck in my pain and my fears.
Remember the original image of Ushio. As boxers in sparring sessions, (shoot, as HUMANS) we color each other with hues of our struggles, fears, hopes, and shades of our past. Creating a masterpiece the canvas floor of the ring has never before seen. And we stand, sneakers, gloves, headgear, soaked with colors of expression, learning, growing, stretching to be new. The fight is truly the art- the letting go, the creativity, the science, the dance of boxing. The art is truly the fight- the ways in which we create to stand, to exist, to be. Though at first thought or first glance one might find little semblance between an artist and a boxer, I have found there is no greater connection or parallel than of that between boxing and artistry. In fact, they are one and the same. Artistry IS fighting and boxing IS artistry. Much like the boxing ring is analogous to life, so too are the identities of artist and boxer intertwined.
For many poets and writers, there is no space more sacred, more beckoning than one’s notebook (I suppose laptop these days though I’m partial to the pen and pad).
For a boxer, I am learning that the ring holds the same sacred power where one can come to find him/herself.
So what happens when you put a poet in a boxing ring? A dancer? A boxer? An emcee? Story happens. Expression. Release that captures and connects all of its witnesses who stand in the wake of the fight.
If the thought of stepping foot into a boxing ring, or putting pen to paper and seeing what happens terrifies you, then you probably should. When we stay in a place of comfort we don’t grow. There is something happening at Arcaro Boxing and through The Artist and The Boxer: about knowing that everyone is working out their own demons, their own past and who they are becoming that makes it safe to be uncomfortable here. The Artist and the Boxer allows us to celebrate this journey we all are on and fellowship around a sport and experience that leaves us transformed every time. As much as we might feel we are alone in our adversity, so many others experience similar struggles. Why don’t we name that and celebrate it?
I believe the Artist and the Boxer is each of us. Each of us searching for the magnificent beauty that is our struggle- hurtling paint covered gloves across our canvases-not knowing what story is being expressed but knowing that whatever is coming out is necessary and right. The art is our fight. And our fight is the art.
–By Laura Wright
Boxer, poet, educator, community activist