Packing a strong punch

Russian artist Leyla Sandshiko's Muay Thai inspired exhibition merges her passion for art with her love for boxing

A painter-turned-Muay Thai enthusiast, Leyla Sandshiko dances like a butterfly and stings like a bee in her latest acrylic painting art exhibition aptly titled 'Counter Punch'.

Russian artist Leyla Sandshiko in her element. Photos Courtesy of Leyla Sandshiko

At the exhibition on view at Sathorn 11 Art Space gallery until Wednesday, the Russian lets loose her artistic talent with a set of boxing gloves, acrylic paints, and canvas to create a collection of pieces that deliver a message of empowerment.

In an interview with Life, the small yet physically strong powerhouse shared the message behind her collection.

"The main message of this series is to never give up! Be strong! Find your passion and follow it. Be free and do what you love and what brings you joy. Never worry what others might think about you. Even if you feel completely broken, stand up over and over again and follow your dreams. Create instead of destroying. Remember that there is always a way out of any problem, always!"

Born in Elista, Russia in 1973, the artist has been ferrying between Bangkok and Moscow for the past eight years in which time she has also taken up Muay Thai. Her passion for the Thai martial art later developed into a theme for an exhibition.

In her latest art exhibition 'Counter Punch', Russian artist Leyla Sandshiko brings the right balance between her two passions, art and Muay Thai. Courtsy of Leyla Sandshiko

"When I moved to Thailand, I decided to study Muay Thai. With every punch and every kick, I always imagine a bright splash of paint appearing on a blank canvas. Muay Thai sessions boost my energy level and inspire me to create new artwork that can now be seen in this series. This year, spending the quiet months of quarantine in my mountain art studio, I found the perfect moment and place to combine my old passions -- Muay Thai and art -- to create my new series 'Counter Punch'. "

"Creating a Muay Thai art series has been my dream for a long time. These paintings reflect a simple truth: life is not always a bed of roses and one can only be successful and happy if one masters the art of the counterpunch after what life throws at you."

Sandshiko said she has been captivated by the boxing-painting performances of neo-dadaist artist Ushio Shinohara from a young age, so actually doing it herself was a life-changing experience.

The 160cm tall Russian created 15 pieces of art for the 'Counter Punch' series and all of them can be described as mysterious and awe-inspiring. The fact that she prefers to work at night explains the dark and passionate tones prevailing her palette.

While the techniques and the process of creating many of her works were similar, she said the challenging aspect was the preparation process.

Courtsy of Leyla Sandshiko

"Before starting work for every painting, I needed to cover the space to protect it from the splashes of colours. Moreover, these are large art pieces that I created using Muay Thai techniques, so I ended up being physically exhausted after punching the canvas. I felt a little sore the day after each painting. So another challenge was that not only did I have to be in the right inspired mood, I also had to be physically prepared for my 'art workout'. "

As she began work on this series during the months of quarantine and self-isolation, the emotions of anger and frustration are clearly reflected in her work but also of her life-long mindset of addressing challenges and obstacles in life. Her "always fight back, no matter what" attitude is reflected in her choice of bright and happy colours alongside the more subdued ones.

"These paintings portray a simple truth: life is not always what you expect it to be and one can only achieve success if you are able to fight back. When I was a little girl, my father taught me how to fight and he always told me to never be afraid of anything or anyone and I am always following this simple yet incredibly important motto."

Speaking on her passion for Muay Thai, she said: "When I discovered the art of Muay Thai, I fell in love with it almost immediately. I was mesmerised by the grace and the strength of the fighters, their lean muscular bodies, their unbreakable spirit, and willpower. To me, this was true art. Soon enough, I decided I should study it myself. Muay Thai sessions boost my energy level and make me feel energised and inspired, so much so that I can paint all night long afterwards."

Sandshiko finds inspiration in everyday life.

She explains: "Life can be beautiful but it can also be cruel and unpredictable. It is never easy to answer the question about what inspires me because as an artist I may find inspiration anywhere such as the feeling of a light breeze on my skin or an overwhelming feeling of anger, joy, sorrow, or love.

"The colours I am using in 'Counter Punch' series are bright and radiant and reflect the contrasts we are constantly witnessing in our everyday life.

"Muay Thai is always inspiring and energising. It gives me more energy to create and reminds me to keep following my passion and never give up."

'Counter Punch' is on display at Sathorn 11 Art Space on Sathon 11 until Wednesday. For more information, visit


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