Tiles celebrate iconic boxerA work by a Korean artist is featured as a permanent exhibit on the walls of the “Muhammad Ali Center” that opened on the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky on Nov. 21. “Hopes and Dreams,” by installation artist Kang Ik-joong, is now a fixture on the fifth floor of the memorial center.
Based on the iconic achievements and contributions of the legendary boxer, famous for his catchphrase, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” the center is a tribute to Muhammad Ali’s life and his lifelong effort to promote tolerance and understanding, feed the hungry and reach out to children in need. The $75-million center has six floors above ground and a floor space of 8,595 square meters (92,514 square feet).
Mr. Kang’s work is 16 meters (52 feet) long and 3 meters high, and consists of 5,000 tiles each measuring 7.6 centimeters (3 inches) square. Children from 141 countries painted pictures on the tiles ― they were asked to draw the stuff of their dreams and whatever was on their mind. Images include piloting a spaceship and children encircling the earth, hand in hand.
“I wanted to show how pure the dreams of innocent children are regardless of their nationality, race and religion,” Mr. Kang said. The tiles include some from Afghan refugees who fled to Pakistan and others from children suffering from AIDS.
The memorial center’s exhibition of the work is the result of Mr. Kang’s pursuit of hopes and dreams in his art work. Michael J. Fox, a close friend of Ali, who led the dedication of the center, had seen another of Mr. Kang’s works, “Amazed World,” exhibited at the UN headquarters in New York and recommended his work to the trustees.
After he quit boxing, Muhammad Ali devoted himself to spreading world peace through the Civil Rights Movement, poverty relief and seeking reconciliation between the East and West during the Cold War era. In recognition of his efforts, he was appointed a UN peace envoy in 1998.
Mr. Fox thought that Ali’s spirit and Mr. Kang’s work complemented each other and asked the artist to produce the piece. At a press meeting before the opening, Mr. Fox said he had wished to exhibit Mr. Kang’s work someday, and that wish had come true.
Mr. Kang is a renowned installation artist now based in New York. He graduated from Hongik University then received a master’s degree from the Pratt Institute. In 1994, he held an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, together with video artist Paik Nam-june. In 1997, he was awarded the Special Merit prize at the Venice Biennale.
In 2000, he installed a wall painting made of 6,000 tiles at the San Francisco International Airport and in 2004 produced another work titled, Happy World, with 5,000 tiles for the Princeton Public Library.
by Nam Jeong-ho
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