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Written by Tufayel Ahmed, CNN

Professional wrestling has always had a bad reputation, as it is neither a respected sport nor a form of entertainment. For the most part, the ubiquitous image of wrestling can be further enhanced, oiled behemoths like Hulk Hogan or John Cena competing in organized fights, or the spandex-clad comedy theaters seen in the hit series Netflix “Glow.”

The merits of professional wrestling as a legitimate sport have long been debated, but can this curious confluence of kitsch characters and acrobatics at Cirque du Soleil be considered art? In the 1950s, French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote an essay comparing wrestling to theater – the shows staged in the ring presenting an allegory of good versus evil. Nowadays, critics have compared the dramatic plots of wrestling to the soap opera, itself an extension of the theater.

Professional wrestling has always been known for its kitsch theatrical violence, but does it have artistic merit? Credit: George Napolitano / Orange Crush

Adam Abdalla, the main creator behind the art and wrestling journal Orange Crush, said in the past he had brought visual artist friends to watch wrestling shows with him. “(They) told me, ‘It’s better than any performance art I’ve been to,’ because of its stickiness, the way wrestlers put their bodies on the line and just choreography of it. ” explained in a telephone interview.

A wrestling and art journal may seem like a niche, but Abdalla has so far published two issues of the year, which are more like an independent culture publication than the heavily saturated pages of a conventional wrestling magazine. . The latest issue features thoughtful pieces about the struggle between the sexes – competitions between men and women – and contemporary artist Raymond Pettibon’s secret love story with sport.

Can professional wrestling be considered an art?

Raymond Pettibon is just one of the artists featured in “Orange Crush”, a new journal about art and wrestling. Credit: Raymond Pettibon / David Zwirner / Orange Crush

“If I go to people who might not be interested in wrestling, ‘I made this diary,’ they say, ‘Oh that’s cool, that’s eccentric,'” Abdalla said. “And I wanted to open the eyes of wrestling fans to how people incorporate the visual language of wrestling into contemporary culture.”

Creative risk taking

Wrestling is a well into which a larger culture has long been inspired, but which has not given credit. Take, for example, Hollywood snatching Dwayne Johnson from the wrestling ring and soaring to the top of the box office, or the wrestling premise of “Glow” and the new NBC series “Young Rock”.

Can professional wrestling be considered an art?

“Wrestling takes artistic opportunities to tell a story,” said Adam Abdalla, creative director of “Orange Crush”. Credit: Michael Watson / Orange Crush

Abdalla sees wrestling as an artistic and cultural force because of the sport’s willingness to take creative risks. “I watched a match with Kazuyuki Fujita and Go Shiozaki from (Japanese wrestling company) Pro Wrestling Noah where they looked each other in the eye for 31 minutes without moving. And there was no audience – you watch. these guys look at each other in complete silence, “said Abdalla.” The fight takes artistic opportunities to tell a story. It reminded me of (Serbian performance artist) Marina Abramovic. “

It is this art and the eclectic assortment of athletes that make up wrestling that Orange Crush brings to light. The star of the cover of the latest edition is Jon Moxley, a former WWE wrestler who has split off the global platform of WWE TV shows like “Raw” and “SmackDown” to exercise more creative freedom. during his career. The photographs of Moxley, taken by wrestling photographer Ryan Loco, smoking a cigar and brandishing a bottle of Jack Daniel backstage after a match are immediately striking.

Can professional wrestling be considered an art?

Jon Moxley is the last star on the cover of “Orange Crush”. Credit: Ryan Nixon / Orange Crush

“WWE is not good at portraying people as stars in a way that resonates with youth culture or popular culture,” Abdalla said. “I want these people to look like the stars they are.”

“A lot of wrestlers are very hip, have a great taste for music and are interested in art and they don’t really have that platform,” he added. “Here they can express themselves in a unique way.”

Presence in the art world

“Orange Crush” also offers a unique outlet to artists passionate about the wrestling ring. Veteran artist Pettibon’s punk-rock wrestling sketches in the latest issue are stunning cubist-inspired collages by emerging Japanese artist Mio Okazaki that depict the effects of wrestling movements while manipulating paper.

Can professional wrestling be considered an art?

“I want these people to look like the stars that they are,” Abdalla said. Credit: Michael Watson / Orange Crush

Meanwhile, the magazine’s first issue, published last year, featured rarely seen images of legendary masked Mexican wrestler Mil Máscaras taken by photographer Avery Danziger, as well as a mask portrait of wrestler Nick Gage’s face by Miami-based artist Nick Lobo. . The reconstructive art illustrated a story about Gage’s imprisonment for bank robbery – a crime he committed without wearing a mask.

“These are artists who show in museums that people in the art world know,” Abdalla said.

“Even if you are not in the wrestling aspect, you might be interested in the artistic aspect,” he continued. “I think when you really pay attention and invest yourself, you start to appreciate the art of it.”

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