art curatorial collective

Nikko Washington
Fight of the Century

Chicago based artist, Nikko Washington, presents his first solo exhibition, Fight of the Century, to explore the role of violence, racism, and the use and misuse of the black body within sports, history, the media, and within the confines of daily life.

Growing up in a family of trained martial artists, Washington earned a black belt and learned discipline and control at a young age, which not only inspired this exhibition, but also his approach to his painting practice. Not a traditionally trained painter, Washington learned the importance of practice in the art of mastering a craft, especially one like oil painting. Painting in a way is a lot like fighting — a very physical activity with rhythmic strokes like jabs, and quick movements around the canvas. Washington says that “brutalism is the most difficult thing within yourself,” and he seeks to explore this through his work that touches on not just physical violence, but the emotional and metaphysical kind too. The Black artist, much like the Black athlete, is expected to perform with composure, amidst scrutiny, and the spectacle, while also remaining self poised.

In 1968, Sports Illustrated, published a five-part series called “The Black Athlete: A Shameful Story” by sports writer, Jack Olsen to discuss race through the lens of sports. The cover of the issue featured art depicting a young black man running towards a hurdle that was also a road blockade. 54 years later, a lot may have changed in the game, but not much for Black athletes.The major leagues are still majority owned by white men, the draft is still like the auction block where athletes are poked and prodded, and don’t even have ownership over their own bodies, and the only sports with salary caps happen to be the ones that are majority played by Black athletes. Washington delves into how our sports and media stars are glorified and personified through perpetual dehumanized narratives and propaganda, and in digesting history, examines how the past dictates our present, future, and world view.

Through works exploring the racialized histories of the Dahomey Warriors, Harlem Hellfighters, boxer Jack Johnson and tennis player Althea Gibson, to the present days’ Serena Williams and Blaxploitation films of the 70s, the work asks us to consider our role as the consumer and spectator when it comes to Black bodies on the field, the ring, the court, and beyond whether that be sports or everyday life.

This body of work is about the violence that lives in us all, whether we recognize it or not. Every generation has a great fight, this is ours.

Exhibition text by Cierra McKissick

This show is curated by Anna Cerniglia of Johalla Projects in partnership with The New Vanguard