Artist Zak Ove and I have known each other for years, having grown up around a similar sub-cultural London melting pot where North London met West London over a couple of decade’s worth of music, parties, clubs and off-the-grid creativity. He, like me, is half Trinidadian, and we both have a lot in common when it comes to our fathers. Zak’s father is filmmaker/photographer Horace Ove, one of the leading Carribean movers and shakers of 60’s and 70’s London. Whenever we’re together there seems way too much to talk about, our stories overlap (my father was a London-based journalist during the 60’s) each other with zeal and I always leave him feeling that our Trini-trailblazing heritage, in all its crazy imperfection, triumph over adversity and tragedy, has given us incredibly strong themes to create with, and more significantly, a strong sense that we are continuations of our father’s journeys.
Our features editor, Oyin Akande, put together this piece on his most recent work at the entrance of Somerset House, London.
You might have seen the graphite army camped outside Somerset House in early October this year. Zak Ové installed “Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness”, 40 solemn-faced Nubian-black statues standing 2 metres high in the courtyard of Somerset House for the annual 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair on the 6th-9th October, during Frieze Week. With Art Basel Miami about to kick off, the artist has also set up an installation at the Untitled Art Fair in Miami, which opened yesterday.
At Miami, ‘The Invisible Men’ return- the name given to the figures assembled in London earlier this year. The statues are undoubtedly protest-ful. The site-specific installation at Somerset House references a play, which was performed at the former 17th century palace that featured players in ‘blackface’. The ‘hands up’ gestures that invited visitors to mimic and interact with the figures are almost channelling the tensions across the pond and the political ‘don’t shoot’ symbolism employed in the Black Lives Matter movement.
With the statues now installed on American soil, Ové augments the allusion by painting two of the three figures on display in American red, white and blue, creating tension on the bodies. It is somewhere between extreme patriotism and clownish mockery. Fascinatingly, Ove uses location lends to their potency and they have gained new significance in their new place, yet these towering figures seem resolutely unmovable. So, Ové’s work is undoubtedly as permeable as it is salient- his installation of ‘Moko Jumbies’ was exhibited last year in the Great Court of the British Museum. They will be moved to the Africa Galleries where Ové as the first Caribbean artist to enter the museum’s permanent collection.
The artist is London-born with Trinidadian roots and works with sculpture, photography, and film. His work is informed by ‘lost culture’ and African and diasporic history- the sculptures were likened to China’s terracotta warriors or the Easter Island monoliths.
These naked black figures are undoubtedly reminiscent of traditional African figures, almost like larger-than-life Kotas (right) on which Zak Ové can write his expression and politics. His work is more generally about a conversation between old and contemporary methods and materials.
We’re looking forward to seeing Zak continuing to clash cultures, deconstructing and reforming our ever-evolving African Diaspora.