A galvanizing look into a community of boxers fighting disparity
Between the colorful bazaars of Accra, Ghana, lies two small neighborhoods that over the decades have become breeding grounds for international boxing champions, often acting as a ticket out of the poverty paradox that plagues many of these young men. Boxing is intrinsic to Ussher Town, Jamestown, and Bukom, it is the narrative that defines these areas and why no other place has produced as many world champion boxers in the past 75 years. Having gained a window into their world, Antoine Jonquière explains why boxing is a matter of pride and hope.
On the verge of economic collapse three decades ago due to famine and deprivation, Ghana’s modern turnaround and reform have made it one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. But the West African nation’s new economic gains have failed to trickle down to the poorest communities such as those in Ussher Town, Jamestown, and Bukom. High-rise office complexes tower over these impoverished neighbors, a zealous reminder of prosperity and poverty clashing in the shadows of the Atlantic Ocean.
Born in Paris in 1986, Jonquière travels the world exploring tradition and modernity as a social commentator. He originally visited Accra for another project, but while sauntering through Ussher Town, he was drawn to the strong vibrations piercing the ground, so he followed the muffled sounds to a warehouse. “I pushed the door of what happened to be Discipline Boxing Gym, a training ground that I would go on to visit on numerous occasions,” he explained to us. The muffled sounds were a boxing training center and he was instantly addicted to this new underworld exposed to him.
“Boxing here is a serious and respected tradition practiced around the clock by many Ghanaians,” he tells us. As a slim, white French man, Jonquière looked conspicuous from day one. It took him several visits, conversations, and exchanges for the trainers and trainees to grow accustomed to his presence. Once vetted, he was granted certain freedoms into their lives and culture. He told us, “Pugilism is also seen as a potential ticket away from poverty, unemployment, and the absence of opportunity. With up to 6 hours of daily training, a strict diet, regular fights, and competitions all under a forever scorching sun.”
Boxing is about speed. He had to be alert and extremely focused to become a fly on the wall while avoiding the punches, footwork, and body movements being thrown around swiftly. Jonquière wanted to be as close as possible to the indoctrination the aspiring boxers were receiving while steering clear of the physical training happening in full motion. His intention was to capture the raw emotion and toil these men were experiencing at that given moment.
“Boxing is an immensely grueling sport, and for many of the young men pictured it isn’t merely a sport, it’s a potential ticket out in the absence of opportunity,” he explains to us. Their “complete dedication, determination, and strength to make a better life for themselves is a powerful lesson” is what drove this French artist into telling their stories. An acknowledgment and salute to blood, sweat, and tears—Jonquière collated all his work with the boxing centers into an exhibition in Jamestown.
For the trainees and trainers, the exhibition was their first glimpse into Jonquière’s work and his perspective of this coterie of dreamers and athletes. It was a moment of recognition and a sense of pride for all those involved to see their lust for a new hope seized on camera for the world to witness.