Article by Lorraine Johnson

RTISTS AND CRAFTSPEOPLE often refer to the blood, sweat, and tears that go into any creative work. For the participants in the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club-based Shape Your Life program, who are painting on canvases that began life as the floor of a boxing ring, the blood, sweat, and tears are literal. Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, founded by Savoy Howe in 1996, provides a safe and sup­portive space for women and transgendered people to explore the sport of boxing. One of the programs at the club, Shape Your Life, is a recreational boxing program for survivors of violence. Co-founder Cathy van Ingen explains the impetus for the program and the transfor­mative power of it: “Boxing helps these survivors feel their body as powerful, helps them get their body back, by being in control.”

In 2013, a creative component was added to Shape Your Life’s primarily sport-related focus. The old boxing ring canvas floor at the club’s gym had to be replaced, and Savoy Howe asked Shape Your Life participant Colleen Dockstader for ideas about possible re-uses for the canvas. Dockstader had been involved with art therapy and suggested that an optional final session be added to the Shape Your Life program, one in which art was part of the empowerment. Using pieces of the old boxing ring, participants paint images on canvases steeped with personal history.

“Women have sweated and spilled blood and healed and fought and laughed on this canvas,” says van Ingen. They’ve boxed on it (or, as Howe poetically puts it, “danced on it”) and now they’re doing a different kind of dance—painting their power on the canvas where they regained their power.

Excerpted from Fall/Winter 2014 Ornamentum. Click here to subscribe.

Lorraine Johnson is Associate and Managing Editor of Ornamentum.

Left-jab. Right-hook.
I am stronger than you.
Artist: ‘Splatter’