“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me.
It would be a better world.”
The Olympics has opened to a huge and successful fanfare, courtesy of Danny Boyle. Britain is on the way, after a shaky start, to the medals list, finally getting a Gold. There have been tears, triumphs, disappointments and controversy … and future stars waiting to shine. But before it all began … one Olympic legend was fondly remembered.
The man who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee may have arrived in London a wheelchair but his presence was the same as when he danced deftly around the boxing ring, gloved fists flying.
Muhammad Ali celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year and to commemorate the event a retrospective exhibition is on display at Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery, 100 metres from the main Olympic Stadium.
Sitting alongside works by renowned photographers and artists from all over the world, is Brora-based artist Lola Nicol’s painting of the boxing legend.
Lola had already painted Ali as a commission for one of her clients, and she was researching boxing clubs, as a lot of them collect boxing memorabilia, when she came across news of the exhibition.
Lola sent the creative director, Dutch-born London-based photographer Christina Jansen, a photo of her painting, initially only hoping to get some kind of response to her painting and maybe some feedback. Lola was interested to know if she had captured Ali and figured Jansen would know.
Jansen first photographed Ali in 1986 and it has taken her, and co-curator Sandra Higgins, two years to put In The Rings With Ali together. The exhibition comprises 70 photographs and paintings, including some of Jansen’s own work as well photographs and paintings from other photographers and artists.
Lola obviously captured the essence of the boxing legend, as Jansen liked her painting so much she included the piece in the exhibition.
In The Rings With Ali shows different stages of the man’s life, alongside video and audio installations, poetry and memorabilia.
And not just his sporting life, but Ali’s humanitarian work through the decades is also displayed.
That humanitarian work continues. Over a million pounds was raised at a Sports For Peace gala which commemorated Ali, held at the Victoria & Albert Museum on July 25th. The money will be distributed between the Muhammad Ali Centre in Louisville, his Parkinson’s Foundation and the Michael J Fox Parkinson’s fund.
“Age is whatever you think it is,
you are as old as you think you are.”
During the Gala in London various sports stars and celebrities were privileged to be in the boxing legend’s company and they took time to voice their admiration to the media.
Wladimir Klitschko was a competitor at the Atlanta Games in 1996, where he saw Ali lighting the flame. The current IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight world champion said “Muhammad Ali is an inspiration to me and many others. He was always a real fighter. He stands for a lot of energy and charisma. Ali is an idol for millions of people. He is the ‘Rocky of life.”
Former tennis star Boris Becker said: “Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all time. The greatest living sportsman. To be in his presence one more time is a big honour and a privilege. He presented his sport all over the world. From an athlete he became a peacemaker, he became a global warrior and just a spokesperson for the right causes. He has had just an incredible life.”
“Champions aren’t made in gyms.
Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision.”
And it’s been an unbelievable experience for Lola. When she painted his image, she never imagined where it would end up. Ali’s younger brother Rahaman Ali and his wife Caroline flew over from America to attend the opening private viewing of the exhibition on July 19th.
Lola said “To be involved in this feels amazing and unbelievable. For someone like Christina to allow me to be involved in something so big as the Ali exhibition, with some of the best artists in the world, and also be to be involved with something as big as the Olympics feels unbelievable. I can’t explain how much it means. I never imagined something like this would happen to me.”
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.
Lola will also have a number of limited edition prints available for sale, and a contribution of each sale will go to the Muhammad Ali Outreach Programme, a programme which will work with young boxers and run by former British light-middleweight/ middleweight champion Oliver Wilson and former Commonwealth Games gold medalist, British light middle and middleweight, Rod Douglas.
“The man who has no imagination has no wings.”
It is estimated 1200 will visit the gallery on a daily basis. The gallery is open to the public 13th–28th August, Thu, Fri 5–9pm; Sat, Sun 12–5pm and also open to the public from September 8th – 30th.
Lola Nicol: Lola Nicol – Artist
Christina Jansen: Photographer Christina Jansen
Sandra Higgins, Independent Art Advisor & Curator: Sandra Higgins
The Outreach Programme: Muhammad Ali Outreach Programme
Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery, London: Smokehouse Gallery, London
Muhammad Ali – Olympic facts:
- Ali gained Olympic Gold in Rome in 1960. His name at that point was Cassius Clay.
- In his 1975 autobiography it says that he threw his Olympic gold medal in the Ohio River after being refused service at a “whites only” restaurant.
- This fact is still under debate but he was given a replacement medal during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he lit the torch to start the games
“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.”