All Rights reserved
Front Row at the Lube Olympics
Since 2650 B.C., men across the Middle East have been stripping down to cowhide leather trousers, dousing each other with buckets of olive oil, and wrestling atop slickened grass in the pursuit of pinning down opponents or lifting them high above their heads. Still practiced today, oil wrestling is a slippery test of strength and dexterity, and, in many ways, sets a standard for masculine behavior and public image wherever it's practiced. And yeah, that's an odd thing to say about what may be the most homoerotic sport on the planet.
Recently, Milan-based photographer Aleksandar Crnogorac traveled to Edirne, Turkey, to capture a rare array of portraits of the Kirkpinar, the nation's traditional oil-wrestling championship, held annually since the 1300s. Now in its 657th year, the Kirkpinar holds the Guinness World Record for oldest consecutive sports event (before 1582, most wrestlers were former prisoners of war). It's a spectacle of lubed-up men, of all shapes and sizes, grappling on the ground and grasping at whatever they can--even if it means forcing slathered hands down each others' drawers. And all of this marks a rite of passage for so many men involved.
"While the sheer strength of the competitors and the ancient charm of this sport surely give it allure, what renders it most intriguing and special in modern times is its pure, historical, brutal, and sensual aesthetic," says the Austrian-born Crnogorac, who's drawn to provocative pockets of human experience, and whose Kirkpinar imagery is laced with unexpected affection, even male-on-male hugs and kisses. "To the eyes of the outsider, and in particular to the gay audience, this event is certainly most fascinating because it's filled with homoerotic undertones and beautiful men's bodies. But it's strong and inspiring--a rare, intimate look at male bonding in the Muslim world."