Last Monday, the city’s current hit hangout spot, Atmosphere, was packed with regulars for a farewell event to say goodbye before its relocation. The venue was packed with local youth who had turned to Atmosphere for their downtime and relaxation for the last time before it reopened in a new location.
What most people didn’t expect to see was a large boxing ring set up in the center, where there were usually chairs and tables for customers, to show a creative and artistic match. Michael Hailu, a local artist, came up with the idea, and Mardet Gebreyesus curated it.
This visual art piece blossomed in Michael’s mind on an occasion where he noticed everyone that he was hanging around with was starting a new chapter in their lives, which made him feel like maybe he should try to do something new too.
“Every time I get together with my peers, I hear them talk about a new venture they started in a completely different field than what they usually work in, and it made me think: I want to do that too,” Michael said.
He says that he thought about what path he wanted to take and realized that the easiest path that was achievable instantly was to become a boxer.
Just like that, Michael started his journey to becoming a boxer, but as he thought about it, he realized that there was an opportunity for him to interlace his new endeavor with his previous passion, “art.” His previous work is mostly centered around the bias towards the female gender, and he realized how he could interlace that with boxing, which is how Layers Three came to be.
Layers Three is Michael’s third art show. Layers One and Two both featured paintings that attempted to depict the world of femininity and how it was portrayed and perceived by society.
Michael was drawn to the world of inequality that women face when an art assignment back in art school led him to discover how women were portrayed to show their beauty and sexuality, while men were glorified as strong characters.
This realization, coupled with the fact that the women in his life, like his mother, were not given as much credit as they should have received even though they sacrificed a lot for the happiness and safety of their children, inspired him to create works that portray the strength of women.
To incorporate this art into the project, Michael decided that he was going to fight Betel Wolde, who is a professional boxer and a 56-time award-winning boxer, with practically no professional training.
Michael knew that, through this route, there were only two outcomes for him. He either becomes a man who beat up a woman or a man who got beat up by one. Knowing this, he came up with his boxer persona, Mike, and started his preparations for the show.
While in preparation for the boxing match, he heard many comments about how, although this woman was a professional boxer, she was going to be defeated by him because he is a man. These biased comments kept on coming until the very moment the boxing match started.
Some of the comments they collected from people before the start of the boxing match when they realized that it was between a man and a woman included insulting quotes about Michael for taking it out on a woman or how it makes him a weak man that he challenged a woman instead of a man.
The boxing match started with a background musical performance by a traditional Azmari. He was singing insulting songs about the woman and hyping up Michael, which was an added touch to show just how low the expectations were for her to win, even though she was a proven professional and he was not.
Through this performance, Michael created a platform that “invited his audience into his state of combat and offered a live representation of the dystopia of countless biases and allowed emotions and exchanges about bias to show up and serve as an experiential basis for conversations.”
Mardet Gebreyesus, a young architect who had an interest in the world of art, decided to curate his work after she was struck by how extremely provocative and raw his idea was.
“After multiple discussions, I understood that the power of his sketch came from his burning desire to address the impact of bias in everyday interactions,” she explained.
Mardet noticed that, through his vantage point, he was able to transform a normal and simple sporting event into a work of art.
“Michael’s objective was less about bridging gaps and more about exploring the gaps themselves. As a creative process, it resonated with me deeply, not only in the openness to experiment but also in the invitation to reflect on the broader question of the reality of bias as potentially inherent to the human condition,” Mardet said.