Presenting Grunts and Grapples

Every day on the way to meet Lara for lunch I walk past Tunbridge Wells Gallery, and I’ve always seen this cool looking poster for this exhibition, it’s just now I actually got round to going in to check it out, sadly, a week before it’s three-month stint at the venue ends.

Grunts and Grapples is a showcase of oldy-time wrestle mania during the golden age of British Wrestling from the 1950s til the 90s. From posters, photography, video, costume and other paraphernalia, it’s an incredible collection of delight and something of a history lesson on something of a bygone era.

Wrestling was a central part of British national life in this period with iconic figures such as Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy appearing in hundreds of UK town halls and theatres night after night as well as featuring on TV. The exhibition explores how the showmanship of wrestling drew on earlier traditions of public entertainment such as music hall and circus and how this informed the development of the cast of characters, storylines and audience participation unique to the sport. 

Through posters, photographs, souvenirs and costumes the exhibition reveals the origins of wrestling’s interplay of sport and spectacle and the development of personas. The portrayal of wrestlers as baddies (heals) or goodies (blue eyes) would be combined with prevailing social narratives of otherness and racial and sexual stereotypes.

Grunts and Grapples

Exhibition graphics
Capturing the fight. These images are not the work of fine art photographers; they are grainy reportage that document another night in another town hall; another night of grunts, grapples, and the occasional angry granny.
Advertising the action. Produced by anonymous printers, earlier works consisted largely of type, but in time photographs were included.
Poster in detail.

For the full collection including more posters, videos and other artefacts, check out the Grunts and Grapples website.

Curated by design historian Kerry William Purcell.


Grunts and Grapples
Tunbridge Wells Gallery
15 September 2016 – 14 January 2017

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