Gallery 1957 London presents Battle Royale II: Pantheon of Champions, a new solo exhibition by British-Ghanaian mixed-media artist Godfried Donkor. Following his 2019 solo exhibition in Ghana Battle Royale I: Last Man Standing, the show features a new body of work from his recent residency with the gallery in Accra.
Battle Royale marks the culmination of over 20 years of research by Donkor into colonialism, slavery, intercontinental trade relationships and the socio-historical relations between Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
Using the history of boxing and its origin within Ghana as the cornerstones of his extensive research, Donkor explores its social-historical relevance and its relationship with the slave trade across the UK, USA and Ghana. The artist cites events such as battles royal, where white men would force black slaves to fight to the death until there was only one man standing. From aristocrats fighting peasants in the UK, to plantation owners staging matches between slaves in the US, Donkor’s work examines the social-historical relevance of boxing as the art of self-defence.
While Battle Royale I focused on the earlier iconography of boxing, depicting figures such as Tom Molineaux, Bill Richmond and John (Jack) Johnson, some of whom were born slaves, Battle Royale II focuses on the recent and contemporary boxing scene in Ghana. The show stems from the artist’s walks through Jamestown and his visits to the many improvised boxing gyms of this part of Accra that are home to an unprecedented number of world boxing champions, and also the first port of settlement by the British in Ghana.
The advent of the Industrial Revolution during the colonial encounter indelibly changed Accra, and Jamestown in particular, into a vibrant trading centre where goods and money were exchanged. It was during that period when boxing began its transformation from a sport into a business with commercial potential, as well as a social event for entertainment patronised by educated elites and local political figures alike, thus becoming hugely popular across the country.
The antecedent boxers from Battle Royale I were fighting for survival and freedom, while the contemporary boxers whom Donkor is celebrating in Battle Royale II are fighting for their nation and kin, seeking fortune, rewards, fame, rise in society and a better life.
Donkor’s Pantheon pays homage to 10 renowned local champions who became legendary figures, such as Roy ‘Black Flash’ Ankrah, Floyd Klutei Robertson, David Kotei Poison, Azumah ‘Zoom Zoom the Professor Nelson, Nana Yaw Konadu (Nana Yaw Konadu Yeboah), Ike ‘Bazooka’ Quartey, Alfred ‘Cobra’ Kotey, Joshua Clottey, Joseph ‘King Kong’ Agbeko A.K.A Torgbui Kaletor II (Warrior King), and Isaac Dogboe.
The artist also captures the energy of Jamestown, by giving the viewer a glimpse into the dynamic and colourful public spaces, outdoor training gyms and fighting arenas of this part of Accra, which gave birth to and shaped these champions.