In control: Finding strength in boxing, art and culture
How Rahma Soliman is finding her strength.
“I want every woman to feel liberated enough to do something that will give her a sense of power.”
Growing up in Brunswick in Melbourne’s inner north, Rahma Soliman gravitated towards boxing in her teens. By the age of 15 she was boxing seriously, four or five times a week. Rahma says that while the sight of a girl boxing in a hijab might not have been typical, her mum was supportive. “My mum's always wanted me to feel really strong while wearing the hijab.”
Now 18 years old, the past 12 months saw Rahma’s passion for boxing tested, as the gym she had trained at since she was 12 closed down. Rahma took to her local park to keep training on her own – skipping or shadowboxing alone, or sometimes with friends. With this new-found self-motivation, Rahma discovered a renewed love of the sport.
Rahma’s strong sense of self-motivation extends beyond sport too. Along with her brother Adam, she runs a fledgling streetwear label called Soliela. She paints and is inspired by classic Egyptian cinema and iconography as well as the iconography of boxing. “I feel like everything in my life ties into each other,” Rahma explains. It’s a sense of control and being in control that runs through her boxing, her art and her label.
Over the last 12 months, how would you describe your connection with boxing or what sport has meant to you?
I think over the last 12 months, I definitely discovered how much I both want and need my sport. I think my connection to it grew a lot stronger because instead of relying on a space that provided all of the equipment and a trainer and everything for me, I had to start relying on myself to be like, okay, now I'm going to go run here, and then I'm going to do this. I'm going to take my own weights; I'm going to try to box in the park and look crazy! And so I think it really strengthened my connection to the sport because it was a lot more self-driven.
How have you found strength through boxing?
I feel like when you can see yourself use physical strength in sport, then you can also use that metaphorical strength for anything in your life. I think okay, "I can actually do this thing. This sport that might not always be associated with girls.” So if I can do this, then I'm also able to be the prime minister." You know what I mean?
Give us one word to describe what boxing has given you?
Definitely control, feeling in control of myself. I think boxing gives me a sense of control because when I can see myself excel or reach a new personal best, it's like, ‘I am able to do that. I am in control of my body.’
Which platform do you think you can use to create change through more so? Art or sport?
They're actually really similar. It's really interesting because I feel like everything in my life ties into each other. I actually paint a lot. I paint a lot of paintings and we put them on t-shirts and a lot of the paintings are inspired by both Egypt and older boxing themes.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from mainly my family and and my Egyptian background. I'm incredibly immersed in Egyptian movies, they are my favourite thing ever. Most of my inspiration comes from these films. One of my role models is Faten Hamama. She was an Egyptian actress, and she was really incredible. The roles she would pick showcased that prime Egypt. Because I love art so much, I take a lot of shots from these old movies and repaint the shots.
What change do you want to see in the world?
I think from a really zoomed out perspective, my deepest desire ever is for Muslims to be united. From my perspective, probably not having taboos be so prominent either. I feel like that idea of boxing being really masculine is really strange. It's like, ‘You're channeling male energy.’ But ultimately that's power. I want every woman to feel liberated enough to do something that will give her a sense of power.
What do you think the world would look like if we achieved equality for women in sport?
It will be amazing. Sport is so empowering, it's ridiculous. I grew up my whole life quite confident and quite strong because I was raised by a really strong woman. I think she passed a lot of that strength onto me. But doing boxing, which is obviously a very strong sport, that just boosted what I already had by 100 times.
How do you express yourself through your art, your style and your clothing label?
With my label, or just how I dress, you can put a bunch of colours together and just feel extremely liberated and feel like you're actually channelling your best self. It's like, you're wearing something that adds to you or that you add to it.
And that’s also control. You're in full control of who you are, who you present yourself to be. And when you have that complete control, and you recognize that you have that control, it's so liberating because you can be whoever you want.
Reported: May 2021