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Artists capture Ali as leader in boxing, civil rights

Artist Corey Pickett Clovis N.M. stands next his artwork Muhammad Ali thwas created from corrugated paper. Pickettís art is among

Artist Corey Pickett of Clovis, N.M., stands next to his artwork of Muhammad Ali that was created from corrugated paper. Pickettís art is among 25 pieces of art that will on display at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., until March 16. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

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The Muhammad Ali Center is at 144 N 6th St., Louisville, Ky. Hours: 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; noon to 5 p.m. Sun. Call (502) 584-9254 or visit

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:33AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Muhammad Ali sent opponents crashing to the canvas. Now the boxing great is being portrayed on canvas in his Kentucky hometown.

A contemporary art show featuring 25 pieces created by 21 artists from across the country opened Friday at the Muhammad Ali Center, the cultural and education complex that promotes his social activism and relives his boxing exploits.

Some of the artwork portrays Ali defeating Sonny Liston and George Foreman in his heyday as heavyweight champion.

Artist Corey Pickett of Clovis, N.M., chose another side as his subject — Ali’s role in the civil-rights movement. Pickett’s artwork, created from corrugated paper, shows a steely image of Ali in a red, white and blue background to symbolize his role in American society.

“I wanted to show not the boxing side but the civil-rights side, the movement,” Pickett said. “I wanted to put him with things that represent America. I wanted to portray him as an American.”

The exhibit’s curators, Brady and A. Michelle Blakeley, asked the artists to re-create their memories of Ali.

The Blakeleys, who own a gallery in Sacramento, Calif., came up with the idea of an Ali-inspired exhibit as a tribute to the boxing great for his 70th birthday a year ago. Ali turned 71 on Thursday.

Works are in charcoal, pen, acrylic, oil, spray paint and corrugated paper.

The show offers some unique images of one of the world’s most recognizable figures. One piece, in ballpoint pen, shows a caricature of a young Ali in boxing gear. Ali is portrayed as malnourished, to symbolize his drive to achieve greatness.

“This is when he was hungry for what he was trying to get and he hadn’t gotten there yet,” Brady Blakeley said.

Another exhibit piece shows a young Ali in sparring headgear. The artist emblazoned the headgear with the word “forever,” meant to signify that Ali’s message of peace, spirituality and personal growth are timeless.

“His message is still relevant today,” Brady Blakeley said.

The artwork will be on display at the Ali Center until March 16.

Ali won the heavyweight title in 1964, defeating the heavily favored Liston. Soon after, Ali — who was raised in a Baptist family — announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name.

While in his prime, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight crown in 1967 for refusing to be drafted for military service during the Vietnam War. He cited his religious beliefs as the reason for his refusal.

His decision alienated Ali from many across the United States and resulted in a draft-evasion conviction. Ali found himself embroiled in a long legal fight that ended in 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

He regained the heavyweight title in 1974, defeating Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Ali’s last title came in 1978 when he defeated Leon Spinks.

Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and devoted himself to social causes. He has traveled the world on humanitarian missions, mingling with the masses and rubbing elbows with world leaders. Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.


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