nicolai howalt
For centuries boxing has been seen by some as the noblest of sports – the ultimate primal battle. Some even see 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 lose in a sport which for others is simply 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. For example those looking at Nicolai Howalt’s images of young boys who’ve had a beating. Some them a serious beating. There’s something moving about them, as they stand before us in pairs, photographed immediately before and after a boxing match. We can feel the tension and anticipation they feel about what is about to happen. About to happen in just a few minutes. Up in the ring. And we can empathise with them. Enter their world. As they enter the ring, possibly for the very first time.

Whilst boxing provides the framework, what we’re witness to here is far more universal: young people facing an imminent challenge and searching for their place in this world – their identity. That, perhaps, is what Nikolai Howalt’s Boxer is really about. And what it’s really about for all of us - finding our place in this world. Whether we do so by literally enduring a physical boxing match with a broken nose and black eye as part of our personal baggage, or whether the battle is more symbolic. Either way, we’ve all had our round in the ring.

We can only try to decipher whether the boys here have found their place and role in life. Some look like they have. Others may have to search for their role and identity elsewhere, possibly in what some would consider to be a more suitable and less damaging arena.

There seems little point in hiding the fact that Nicolai Howalt himself is an ex-boxer who has been through endless rounds in the ring. Has himself stood trembling outside the ring for the very first time, wondering how it would go. And it could just be that it is precisely the artist’s own experience and interrogation of boxing that have made it possible to create Boxer, a project in which each pair of portraits emanate an empathy and compassion for these young boys’ quest on the cusp of adulthood.

Text by Lasse Krog Moller
Translation by Jane Rowley