Cockfighting is a millennia old blood sport. Under the guise of religious ceremony, prized fighting cocks, with their plumage resplendent, battle to a bloody victory or demise. Artistic fascination with blood sport is well documented. Goya, Hemingway, Manet, Picasso have all been drawn to the spectacle of death.
Long outlawed in the western world, cockfighting is still a common spectacle in Africa, the Middle East, the Americas and in Asia. Joseph McGlennon’s encounters with the cockfights have occurred in Bali. Over the last decade, repeated journeys have developed a fascination, not with the sport as such, but with the Heavenly Fighters who feature at its bloody heart.
Cockfighting is ancient tradition in Balinese Hinduism. According to the Batur Bang Inscriptions (933 on the Balinese Caka calendar) and the Batuan Inscription (944), the tabuh rah ritual had by the Tenth Century CE, already existed for centuries. In Bali cockfights, known as tajen are practiced as a religious purification ritual to expel evil spirits. The performance of tajen, within temples grounds, is a form of animal sacrifices called tabuh rah (pouring blood). The purpose of tabuh rah is to provide an offering (the blood of the losing cock) to the evil spirits. Cockfighting is a religious obligation at every Balinese temple festival.
In McGlennon’s Heavenly Fighters, a new moon rises over a landscape of myth. A rampant, noble fighting cock, almost bejeweled in his finery of feathers stands with a fixed gazed towards the viewer. Bred for religious blood sport, temple-fighting cocks possess aggression towards all males of the same species. They are born to kill. Their death purifies.
In much of McGlennon’s practice there is a pervading notion of death – this new body of work is the most overt depiction. The flash of a tethered blade to each rooster’s foot is a strong reminder of the fate of each proud specimen. Rich with complex symbolism and the tension of beauty, death and morality, each of the eight works in this series is an studied exercise in composition and lighting.