Going head-to-head on the expansive grasslands

This summer London-based art director Gem Fletcher teamed up with Danish photographer Ken Hermann and embarked on a trip to the Inner Mongolian grasslands, where they shot a tension-filled portrait of the area’s fighting traditions.

Here, Fletcher talks about the roots of the project:

— When a boy is born in Inner Mongolia, his family pray for him to become a wrestler. This ancient tradition is the cornerstone of Mongolian culture dating back centuries to Genghis Khan’s reign, when he used it to keep his soldiers battle-ready. bokh4

“The wrestlers engage in long, dramatic grapples, which at times resemble intimate embraces”

— Khan famously compared wrestling to war: in both you face enemies who are stronger and more powerful than you, and you must attack. It’s a sentiment these young wrestlers keep very much in mind. This unique form of wrestling governs status for young men within the community, as it is used as a marker of manliness. These bouts take place in the remote and desolate grasslands, empty to the horizon except for a few scattered yurts and flocks of sheep.

— Mongolian wrestling feels like a dance. Opponents meet in the ring with hands outstretched, moving around each other until one of them takes the lead. They engage in long, dramatic grapples, which at times resemble intimate embraces. In an instant it’s over. One trip. One lift. One throw. And it’s done.bokh2 bokhbokh3

Mongolian Wrestling on Nowness.