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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Muhammad Ali: The Photographs of Sonia Katchian 

The Clarion Content is delighted to welcome back a bon vivant whom we hope will be a regular contributor, Catherine Howard. Ms. Howard is a whirlwind of activity and very much in the middle of the Durham artistic milieu. She is a visual artist, an art history instructor, and a curator.

To see her artwork, check out www.catherinejhoward.com, and to see more of her writing, check out catherinejhoward.wordpress.com.

Read her first piece on the Clarion Content here.

Muhammad Ali: The Photographs of Sonia Katchian

at Focal Point Gallery in Chapel Hill, NC

as seen by Catherine Howard

Walking into the artist’s reception at Focal Point Gallery on Sunday, January 15th, a sumptuous spread of cookies, sheet cake, cupcakes, and snacks left no room for doubt that we were joining a jovial celebration of Ali’s 70th birthday already in progress. Although Sonia Katchian’s “The ALI Folio” includes a smattering of images of Ali in the ring, this exhibition glorifies an intimately human Ali, the gentle man known to his family and close associates.

This living legend, a symbol of boxing, charisma, Islam, and now Parkinson’s disease, captivates our collective imagination. His public persona inspires awe and reverence (after all, the man is The Champ), but with a career veiled in bravado, who is the man behind the façade?

Now, we do see Ali’s physical prowess in various photographs of his warm-ups and sparring. The piercing gaze he flings at an off-camera opponent in “Deer Lake, PA Training Camp 1974)” chills the blood. However, of the mixture of fighting, preparation, and candid shots, the most captivating photos only tangentially allude to his “job”. Ali’s unwavering intensity, a quality that made him such a formidable fighter, surfaces in a photograph of him conversing with a tailor, entitled “Los Angeles 1981”, but his piercing gaze is softened with a poised deference.

On another wall, the dichotomy of man vs. idol is perfectly encapsulated: “Deer Lake, PA Training Camp 1974”, depicting two small boys gazing up at a life-size chalk drawing of The Champ surrounded by promotional boxing posters, is placed right next to “First Class to Detroit, 1981”, in which Ali is sprawled out, jaw slack, exhausted, on an airplane.

The vulnerability and trust required to fall asleep around someone else is a testament to the warmth and dedication inherent in Katchian and Ali’s relationship. During our conversation, she reiterated the gentility Ali exuded toward his inner circle. “He was so modest, soft-spoken. His public persona was all for show.”

Ali’s public conversion to the Muslim faith made him a lightning rod during the Civil Rights movement, but regardless of how his religious beliefs were portrayed in the media, Katchian tenderly mused, “He is a very spiritual person; his relationship to God is so deep and important to him.”

This multifaceted glimpse at such an iconic figure sparks nuanced conversations about race, fame, and religion. While there may not be any cupcakes left, Ali’s candid smile will still welcome you. Bring the kids and neighbors, and join in the celebration!

On display until February 28th, “The ALI Folio”, a connoisseur’s boxed edition containing fourteen of Katchian’s and Ali’s favorite photographs, can be purchased by visiting Focal Point Gallery at 1215 East Franklin St in Chapel Hill. Posters and postcards are also available. Call 919-636-4557 or visit www.chapelhillfocalpoint.com for more information.

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