A queer perspective on the sport of wrestling

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Baltimore-based artist Ben Mcnutt is creating a queer perspective on the sport of wrestling through art. His photographs illustrate his own interpretation of the sport and touch on issues of heteronormativity and homosexuality through history, culture, and athleticism.

Images of young, perspiring wrestlers in tight singlets take on an almost sensual nature, which highlights a beautiful, less aggressive approach to wrestling culture. Another installation showing ancient Greek and Roman statues, titled The Uffizi Wrestlers, provides a historical context to wrestling and puts into question the sport’s claims of heteronormative behavior. 

Mcnutt showcases his own passion and understanding of the sport of wrestling through his photographs, and uses them to provoke a conversation about a sport that he believes deserves more visibility and discussion. 

Read our exclusive interview with Mcnutt about his work below:

dot429: First off, can you explain your work? 

Ben Mcnutt: Throughout the past four years I have been obsessively exploring the sport of wrestling throughout historic and contemporary culture. I have created a massive archive of wrestling-related subject matter, including photographic portraits of wrestlers, documentation of classical statues, panoramas, digital scans of memorabilia and designs of wrestling singlets. I hope that my photography and visual archive of wrestling not only helps bring much deserved visibility to the sport, but also helps touch on subject matter that is socially and culturally significant, such as power, heteronormativity, homosexuality, athleticism, history and culture.

dot429: How did this concept first come about? 

BM: It was entirely unplanned. I came across early 20th century photographs depicting wrestling holds. It was a pure instantaneous attraction. I couldn’t put my finger on what was the source of the attraction at the time. It was just there. Something about the history, the pose, the content. Shortly after I began photographing wrestling holds akin to the old images, curious to see what would come from them. I never used the images but it was the initial spark that led on my obsession with wrestling. 

dot429: Why did you choose wrestling, as opposed to other sports?

BM: There wasn’t much of a decision to be made for me. It came down to a gut attraction. I looked at other contact sports and it ultimately came down to a kind of seduction the sport held with me. It’s unique to me in comparison to other choices. The amount of historical content there, the relationship it holds with society, the athleticism. I was captivated in a way that was unique for me when compared to other sports. 

dot429: Do you wrestle, or have you in the past? 

BM: No, I have not formally wrestled. It’s a question everyone wants to know. I’m sure the work would be coming from an entirely different place if I had, but the work isn’t about trying to capture the mindset of a wrestler, or making a documentation of the sport. Rather it’s about my attraction and obsession to the sport and how I’m relating to it. 

dot429: Can you talk about your focus on the Greek/Roman statues that you incorporate and their significance? 

BM: When I started photographing these statues there was a familiarity to the bodies, as if I had seen the same figures once before. I started comparing bodies of live models I was photographing to the bodies found in Greco-Roman statues around me. The classicism and idealized male bodies that I initially encountered remained. This notion of sameness through time and sport intrigued me. 

dot429: Do other people that you’ve spoken to seem to have the same views as you towards wrestling? 

BM: People have found my approach to wrestling approachable. I try to be really aware of what content responding to wrestling is being put out there.  I want my work to add a new voice onto the existing conversations being discussed over themes of power, history, male bodies. I don’t think I’m special, I just want to make content that can be simultaneously refreshing and relatable.  

dot429: What have you learned about the wrestling culture since you began documenting it?

BM: That’s a big question! I really didn’t know anything about wrestling when diving in head first. Part of my initial attraction to the wrestling was due to my naivety.This changed as my interest grew in scope. I began to subscribe to wrestling magazines, reading books, learning its history, lurking on forums, and just become submerged with media involving it. I now own hundreds of used stamps depicting wrestling throughout the world. I have one-off medals, and a closet of singlets. I am continually absorbing information, and I enjoy it so much. 

dot429: Have people disagreed with you in seeing wrestling as a sexualized sport?

BM: Definitely. There has been resistance, especially with those involved directly with the culture. I have sexualized it. I’m not about to deny that I find it sexy, but it’s only one aspect of wrestling to me. This is a sport that requires a level of physical aptitude that is, for lack of a better word, awe-inspiring. If it’s sexualized by some, well, I don’t find that surprising. 

dot429: As an artist, what do you have planned for the future? 

BM: I have no clue! The project has been entirely unpredictable. If someone mentioned to me that I would be photographing a single wrestling statue exclusively for six months, or printing a two story tall photograph of a wrestler I would not have believed them.

I fall down these rabbit holes of interest, not knowing where they will lead. I’m currently scheduling in wrestling matches around my area that I will be bringing a point-and-shoot camera too. I don’t know what will happen exactly, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this new rabbit hole leads me.

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