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Event 2


to win a losing war

“Rope-a-dope” is a knockout performance that revisits the events around the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match, which paired the charismatic Muhammad Ali and the reigning world champion George Foreman and took place in Kinshasa, Zaire on October 30, 1974. Expect issues of politics, identity, religion, and economics to be thrashed out in what promises to be grueling and intense performances by Brooklyn-based artists A. K. Burns and Kenya (Robinson). Rope-a-dope, a fighting strategy adopted by Ali to defeat Foreman, is based on the idea of enduring your adversary’s repeated blows until they exhaust themselves, before you finally rise up to triumph over them. Following this historical encounter of thirty-five years ago and the events surrounding it, the term and strategy have been deployed in the public sphere to reference similar strategies in politics, business negotiations, and personal relationships.

The term’s revival during Barack Obama’s electoral campaign, in which he patiently submitted to a battering by his opponents only to swing back harder, invites us to revisit a historic moment with a return to the ring. The artists will perform their interpretation of Rope-a-dope, reflecting the way sports informs our understanding of contemporary global politics as well as rituals of self-preservation.

This event will be accompanied by an installation of documents and materials directly and indirectly connected to the fight showing, among other things, the rivalry between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, Mobutu Sésé Seko’s reign in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) in the 1970s, the fight promoter Don King’s organizing tactics, and the sting of Ali’s rants.

About the artists:

A.K. Burns is a Brooklyn-based artist who grounds her work in feminist and queer discourse addressing issues of power, sites of control, and knowledge production. Burns is a founding member of the activist artist group W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), which draws attention to economic inequalities in the arts. For “Rope-a-dope,” Burns will present a performance with video and sculpture that investigates her relationship to her body, to fitness, and to aggression that draws on her eight years of training as a boxer and acts as a response to Johanna Russ’s feminist sci-fi novel from 1975, The Female Man.

Kenya (Robinson) is a multi-media artist based in Brooklyn. She takes the ritual as a site for her artistic production, addressing politics of the quotidian and the ceremonies of the mundane. Her exhibition, “HAIRPOLITIC: The Pursuit of Nappiness” was on view at the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art in 2008, investigating construction of identities within the notions of choice and acceptance. For “Rope-a-dope,” Kenya uses the pre-fight ritual of hand wrapping as the visual backdrop for a rapped soliloquy that fuses the poetry of Gabriella Calvocoressi, the rhymed boasts of Muhammad Ali, and polyrhythmic patterns of 70’s soul.

“Rope-a-dope” is curated by Sohrab Mohebbi and Gabi Ngcobo, second-year graduate students at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College