British Judo Olympic bronze medallist, Neil Eckersley, has been chosen by the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage (OFCH) to be featured in the second edition of the Olympic Agora that will lead into the Beijing Olympic Games.
“To be featured you have to be an Olympian. This is compulsory, but beside that you have to be an artist. For many years I have dedicated my life to judo and art” explains Eckersley, whose work has been presented several times in IJF art exhibitions, usually held prior to the World Championships.
“Since being contacted, it was a nightmare to keep it a secret.” Says Eckersley, who was contacted 5 months ago by the IOC to be a part of the project. “I was already part of the Olympian Artists-in-Residence programme, which is a platform that presents the work of Olympians.”
The Olympic Agora made its debut in Tokyo last summer. The Beijing exhibition will be the second edition and from now on it will feature at all future Games.
The programme features seven creative Olympians and their artworks inspired by the Olympic values and the magic of winter sports.
The works span multiple mediums from painting, graphic design, art photography and Chinese brush painting.
When Neil first submitted his work, he was not sure that the OFCH would be interested, “My creations are not necessarily sports related, even if I have created nine pieces that have a direct link with judo, but I believe that it’s not the artwork that is the important part, but the artist. That is why I was so excited and quite surprised that the Olympic movement was interested in what I do.”
“For this specific exhibition I decided to focus on the city of Beijing, which is an amazing city; very inspirational. I think that is opens a new dimension for this kind of presentation. Yes, we are sportsmen and sportswomen but we are also artists and we have a message to deliver that goes beyond sports.”
The Olympic Agora also features two live educational events, based on the Olympic Values Education Programme (OVEP), led by Eckersley and fellow Olympian Kader Klouchi, on 9th and 16th February. The curriculum uses art as an informal teaching approach to encourage children to explore the Olympic values and ideals through creative expression.
“Everything I paint comes from the Olympic values. They mean everything to me. I use the values especially during difficult and challenging times in my life, both as a coach and as an artist. The Olympic values have been a comfort and a constant resource for me.”
At the OVEP workshops, Eckersley will reflect on his career path and the links between the Olympic values, art, culture education and sport. The sessions will be available to an online audience.
Neil is the only European artist selected and one of three summer Olympians selected. “For me to represent judo at the Winter Olympic Games is amazing. For our summer sport to be a part of the Winter Games is incredible. It creates a bridge between the discplines. For me, more personally, participating in Beijing is like taking part in the Olympic Games again, after Los Angles 1984. This is very exciting.”
Olympic Values Education Programme
OVEP is a set of free and accessible learning and teaching tools designed to inspire young people through the Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship. Using the context of Olympic sports and the core principles of Olympism, the OVEP curriculum communicates the benefits of sport and physical activity, and their impact on individual health, enjoyment and social responsibility.
Featured image © Brennan Shackleton