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Arts Review – Soul of a Nation: Art in the age of Black Power, Tate Modern

by Maya Kay

The show opens in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights movement amidst the dreams of integration.

From the Spiral art collective devoted to, and composed solely of African-American artists founded by Romare Bearden, Charles Alston, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff; to Just Above Midtown (JAM), there have been pioneers who have dedicated gallery space to exhibit African-American artists and works by people of colour. From Betye Saar to Barkley L Hendricks, this latest retrospective of works from one of the many pockets of the African diaspora explores two decades of America’s eclectic and unquestionably talented African-American artists.

Continually forcing us to question what constitutes as black art, and what does it truly mean to be a black artist?

Comprised of 12 rooms, 150 works, and 60 artists: consumed by marginalised art, created by marginalised people, highlighting the differences in differences. Additionally, all of which demonstrate the delightfully diverse – assemblage, abstract expressionist, photography – also reflective of the people the art stems from and represents.

Maya at Soul of a Nation

Looking forward by looking back

Sterotypes and politics

Often labelled as ‘colourful’ and ‘vibrant’, yet all stereotypes aside there is something so much more about black art that is magnetising and goes beyond these hackneyed adjectives. Art that is empowering. Art that is electric. Art that’s under-represented yet simply can no longer be overlooked.

At the entrance we are greeted by the harmonious, household voice of Dr Martin Luther King in the familiar black and white footage commanding the audience’s attention at the podium, during the March on Washington. We then slowly stroll through the unforgettable slice of history that is a cacophony of violence, hatred, propaganda, bloodshed – brows furrowed, we wondered if it is in fact history or what we are experiencing today with Black Lives Matter and high profile police cases at the forefront of widespread media and numerous platforms.

Eye by Betye Saar

Eye by Betye Saar

Back then in a myopic milieu, these artists longed for public acknowledgement as well as recognition and out of necessity created their own galleries and exhibitions to showcase their work – it would have been inconceivable to consider being displayed at the Tate Modern, though fast forward to the modern day and you find an increased demand on an international scale, exciting a global audience, sought after by numerous galleries from London to New York, and for discerning collectors, with collections that have vacuums that require filling; yet another reminder of the familiar sitting side by side with the unfamiliar.

The cover art for the exhibition, and one of my personal favourites is the 1969 painting titled ‘Icon for My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved Any Black People – Bobby Seale)’ by Barkley L Hendricks (16 April 1945 – 18 April 2017). Another favourite and key piece of note – and resonates for those of us that have been in the shops in search of “skin colour” hosiery – is Senga Nengudi’s work: made entirely of stretched and mangled nylon tights, direct reference to African-American women who wore tights in so called, ‘nude’ and ‘natural tones’, in order to mask their colour or “appear white”.

Senga Nengudi

Soul of a Nation is a multi sensory experience that allows for posthumous recognition after years of unending yearning for due credit. It is a significant and profound exploration of how to define what a black artist is, what black art is, the impact of society and politics on this definition, emphasises pivotal moments in history that influenced the artists and their art, and skips between the familiar and unfamiliar in a somewhat haphazard manner.

What is unclear is the lack of continuity, what remains clear is that the social and political matters that prevail are as relevant now as they were then, and have a far reaching impact not only to black people, but to all. These artists wanted a chance to be viewed publicly by Americans, now all the world can see.

So what does it mean to be a black artist? It depends.

 

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power until 22 October 2017

Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG

Tickets available here.

Maya is on Instagram and Twitter.

Interview: ‘Typical Girls’ Founder Jamila Prowse

TG Team

The Typical Girls team. From left to right, Chani Wisdom, Jamila Prowse and Celiya Koster.

by Rose Miyonga and Jamila Prowse 

Typical Girls is part of a growing movement of zines by and for a diversity of women who aren’t interested in waiting to be given a voice by the mainstream media.
It is a space for self-expression and sharing of the female experience, which ultimately demonstrates that there is no one way to be a self-identifying woman.
It launched in 2015 with an issue entitled ‘Beginnings’, and ‘The Naked Issue’ was released last year, the Girls are back with volume three, ‘Generations’ this month. This issue invites readers and contributors to explore the many facets of their identities and what defines our generation, looking at the activists and creatives rebelling against the many frustrations of today’s society and political climate.
I wish that zines like Typical Girls had existed when I was a young teenager, thumbing the pages of glossy magazines searching in vain for something that reflected or honoured my experience, and I am sure that the next generation of Girls will be better off for having access to such a plurality of talent and self-expression.
We spoke to Jamila Prowse, co-founder of Typical Girls (and ThandieKay Features Editor) about her vision for the future of the zine, and about where it all began.

What is Typical Girls? Where did it come from?

Typical Girls is an intersectional women’s magazine. When it was established at the end of 2015 it was to create an inclusive space: one where self-identifying women from a variety of backgrounds, ages, cultures and disciplines could come together under one roof. In this way it was established as a response, an alternative to women’s publishing as it stood at the time. We wanted to genuinely represent our contributors, in a way that was honest to them, and avoided tokenising.

When I speak about the catalyst behind establishing the magazine, I often return to my childhood. I grew up in a predominantly white middle class community and was raised in a single parent household by a white mother. Despite having a mixed heritage (my dad was black South African) I did not have access to my black heritage growing up. As such, I didn’t strongly identify with my blackness. Yet, being noticeably ‘other’ in my appearance, compared to those around me, I also experienced a strong sense of alienation in my formative years which lasted well into my 20s, and still follows me today.

Chani and Jamila for i-D Spring 2016, shot by Jack Davidson

I always loved magazines as a teenager. The glossy pages seemed to hold secrets into another world. I would tear those pages out and paste them all over my wall, staring at them longingly, and hoping that their magic would somehow seep off the page and into my own life. I was overly romantic, and aching for something of importance to happen to me. I tried to imagine myself in those pages, in those worlds, but I could never quite make the leap of imagination to align myself with them. None of the girls in those pages had hair or features like my own. I would spend hours in the bath smoothing down my afro hair, willing it to stay straight. As much as I hoped and wished that the pastel colours of my favourite publications would influence my own life, I knew deep down that I did not belong in that world, because nothing had ever shown me otherwise.

It’s infuriating that, up until recently, you had to scour popular culture to find black faces reflected back. The few examples of black representation we had were nothing more than homogenised stereotypes. You would struggle, too, to find any discussions or explorations of mixed heritage. As a young teenager I was convinced that there was no one else who felt remotely the same to me.

TG was established in order to ensure that young women of colour could see themselves mirrored in the pages of a magazine. If young people don’t see themselves reflected in the world around them, how will they view themselves as being a part of it? Thankfully, with increasing discussions around representation things are starting to change. Women’s publishing is no longer the whitewashed space that it once was. Instead of responding to a lack, we are now part of a wider dialogue. I am so pleased to be able to provide a platform which contributes in some way to that conversation. If we can create a movement in women’s publishing which truly reflects all women, than we will have achieved something.

Cover

Gabrielle Richardson on the cover of Vol. 3, shot by Amarachi Nwosu

What’s the process of going from idea to holding the magazine in your hands?

We have an extremely tiny editorial team who put together TG. It is made up of myself, our Art Director Chani Wisdom, and our newest Editor Celiya Koster. Initially, after deciding on a theme, we put a call out for submissions. Then the three of us go and source content based around this. Our contributors are the ones who really form the publication. We get sent such incredible work, and people give so much of their time and energy to our little publication. We wouldn’t exist without them.

For issue 3, visual artist, writer and creative consultant Amarachi Nwosu came to us to pitch the cover story. Amarachi assembled an incredible team in New York, and took to the streets of Brooklyn with our cover star Gabrielle Richardson. Gabrielle is a curator of the Art Hoe Collective, an online platform which showcases the work of PoC. Gabrielle is at the forefront of a movement of creatives who are shaping the future of representation. She is facilitating the voices of young people, Amarachi recognised that instantly, as well as the fact that Gabrielle’s ethos is entirely aligned with our own. The vision and dedication of the team behind that shoot brought a real magic to our third issue. You can feel the life jumping out of the pages when you look through it.

Once all the content is together, it’s just down to Chani and her laptop. Months of graft and painstaking work from Chani gives the publication a real sense of self. She puts great care into all the minute details of the design, hiding little nuances that tie the entire feel of the magazine together. That sense of coherence you get as you turn from page to page is all down to her.

Jamila interviewing Hollie Cook for issue 3

You’re doing something new with the magazine, but that at the same time reflects a long history of feminism in print. Who/what were your influences?

We take our namesake from The Slits song ‘Typical Girls’ (we’re always overjoyed when readers pick up on this detail). For us, their no bullshit attitude, and complete control over the work they were putting out, is a real inspiration. They went out on stage and acted in a way that society wasn’t used to. Here were three women who stood on the cover of an album, stark naked and covered in mud. In terms of subverting the male gaze that was revolutionary. It was so rare for women to stand in the nude, in a way that wasn’t sexualised or produced for a man. The Slits showed that you could be a woman and still be strong, independent, and not take shit from anyone.

In our third issue we got the chance to speak to Hollie Cook, who was part of the second generation of The Slits. Hollie’s first experience of touring was with The Slits. She spent many of her formative years under their wing. It was amazing to hear firsthand how the band shaped the musician, and woman, Hollie is today. You can really feel that their resonance withstands multiple generations. I’m sure it’s something that will continue to be passed on by Hollie, who in her own way refuses to make any compromises on her vision.

Nakeya Brown’s ‘The Edge of a Dream’ featured in issue 3.

In terms of publishing, there are of course DIY zines. In our ethos we’re very much aligned with the idea that if you don’t see yourself being represented, you go and create something that does. Spare Rib, which was a second-wave feminist magazine, immediately comes to mind. But then, in that, I think it is necessary to acknowledge that feminism has not always been an inclusive space. In fact, many people, especially women of colour, trans women and sex workers, still feel alienated from the movement. It’s about trying to create something that is truly inclusive. Inclusivity is not instantly achievable, and as editors we are constantly challenged to work at it. We might not ever get the formula completely right, but with each new issue we can ask ourselves how we can be more open.

i-D, too, has always stood aside from the crowd. Whereas tokenising, and a lack of visibility, have been inherent problems within publishing, i-D has never adhered to this. The first person of colour to feature on the cover was as early as April 1983, when the Nigerian-born singer Sade graced the fourteenth issue. In issue 3 we got to speak to Lynette Nylander, the writer, editor and creative consultant who worked as Deputy Editor of i-D for 3 years, about how the publication shaped her experience of growing up as a young black girl in London. i-D made it possible for women like Lynette, and the editorial team behind TG, to realise that we could be a part of shaping the culture around us.

Today, publications like Riposte, Sister Magazine, OOMK, Orlando and Girls Club push us to be better. I love that so many independent publications are now going out and shaping the landscape of publishing to be a space of resistance.

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 20.37.59

TG’s art director Chani Wisdom, with a copy of issue 3 at Magazine Brighton.

Typical Girls is part of a movement of zines with a fresh take on art and society. Why do you think people are interested in reading more socially conscious content today?

It’s tricky growing up in a world which is so centred on technology. It is something we are all acutely aware of but it’s actually terrifying. Information is so fast paced and easily digestible that we don’t really need to take the time to sit back and think anymore. We’re told what to read, what to like, what to follow. I was part of the generation that spent the first decade of our lives largely offline. I didn’t have a smart phone until I was about 17, and didn’t have Facebook until my mid teens. I find it really concerning that young people are now being raised entirely on social media. There’s no escape from it. It penetrates every aspect of your life.

With that, how we consume our news has altered considerably. The rise of clickbait journalism and fake news has taken away the core of what we’re reading. I think people are increasingly realising this, and making a conscious decision to seek out platforms which provide honest, captivating, thought-out content. We take our time when producing TG. The 6 months between each issue prevents a fast pace of consumption.

In look and feel, TG is closer to a book than a magazine. It’s a really weighty publication (quite literally – it’s a heavy bugger). It asks you to take your time over it. Pour yourself a cup of tea and sit down in your favourite armchair. When people have a copy stored on their bookshelf, I always feel like that’s exactly where it should be. You could easily spend months perusing slowly through the pages. It’s not about being up to date with the latest fashion or news; it’s about slow journalism, which might be somewhat outdated by the time you get to it, but is more about the timeless value of people’s stories and experiences.

What can we expect in Vol. 3?

As we have grown and developed, so too has the breadth of the work on our pages. Issue 3, which is our biggest issue yet, is filled with life and colour. It is an offering, a love note, to all the incredible women who inspire us on a day to day basis. TG allows us to explore the many aspects that can, and do, encompass womanhood. It is our way of proving that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ girl.

2 Amarachi Nwosu

Garbielle Richardson in issue 3, shot by Amarachi Nwosu

How do you think small publications can survive and thrive in the technology-dominated instant-gratification society? How can we make space for zines like Typical Girls to get the respect they deserve?

I think it’s about putting your money where your mouth is (as blunt as that may sound). We have a lot of power as consumers. If we invest our time, energy and interests, as well as our spare pennies, into publications and artists we believe in, they will be able to continue. If we demand, as consumers, that journalism is considered, and conscious, then publications will eventually have to listen.

The reality of publishing is that it’s a pricey industry. Funds that come in are quickly eaten by printing costs, and all the expenses that come along with running a small business. In order for independent publications to survive, they need to have readers who are invested in their livelihood. None of the people I know who run small print magazines make any money. They do it out of the necessity to contribute something worthwhile to the industry. Everyone involved tends to have full-time jobs on the side just to keep it going. We put our own money into TG, and don’t earn a cent. Our contributors, too, give their time for free out of a love of the publication. But it’s not an ideal situation by any standard. For creatives, making work is often the determinant of their livelihoods. It’s how they put food on the table.

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 20.49.27

Jamila with Vol. 1

We need to shift how we view the creative industries entirely, especially people who work outside of a commercial, corporate agenda. In today’s political climate there is little financial support available for independent artists. If we can consciously change how we, as consumers, spend money — buy an artist’s print instead of a wall hanging from a high street store — we can make small changes that have the potential to really impact someone’s life. The same goes for if you have a choice between a publication heavily filled with advertising, where 70% of the publication is marketing, and one that is independently run.

And Typical Girls in the future?

The aim in the future is to continue to grow and develop with the times. Hopefully collaborating more with publications we admire, and continuing to work to create a cohesive and supportive movement of independent publishing. We have lots of exciting new projects in the pipeline for the next year, to really push what defines TG as a publication, so watch this space…

Typical Girls Vol. 3, ‘Generations’ is available to order here.
You can follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Cover Credits:
Photography: Amarachi Nwosu
Producer: Michael Rotimi
Hairstylist: Kessia Randolph
Photo assistant: Nikko Gary

Representation Matters.

by Rose Miyonga

Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali

Directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight has received wide critical acclaim with 6 nominations and 1 win (Best Motion Picture) in the golden globes alone. Starring Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali, the film focuses on the struggle of an African-American man to accept one’s own identity.

The 2017 Golden Globes felt quite special to me.

It felt like the first time in a long while, if not ever, that there was some decent representation, that I could look at the list of people that the establishment had deemed “the best” in television and film, and see a more diverse range of people representing the many stories that touched us this year. 

Representation matters! And, I don’t just mean one token person who is not straight, white, male and able-bodied on a show written, produced and directed by a white male. What I mean is a plethora of people telling an array of stories in their diverse voices. What I mean is the use of the arts to expand collective consciousness and aid in dispelling the limited idea of normalcy.

I didn’t grow up thinking that my family was strange; my gorgeous multi-cultural, multi-racial family was my first understanding of the world. I only became aware that the wider world seemed to have more restrictive views of what constituted the most inclusive values in the world: beauty, love, family, struggle… 

At its best, television and film, like all the arts, can be a mirror into your soul, shining light on the deepest truths of human existence with love and compassion, inviting us to

52276387 The 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on 1/8/17. The 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on 1/8/17. Thandie Newton FameFlynet, Inc - Beverly Hills, CA, USA - +1 (310) 505-9876

Thandie received a nomination for her role as Maeve in the television series Westworld in the category of for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for Television.

contemplate who we are and where we find ourselves in the world. Television has always seemed especially amazing to me because you bring the stories and characters into your home, sometimes over a period of years or even decades.

It can engender intimacy and belonging, but at its worst, it can also encourage feelings of otherness and lacking, a feeling that people who look like you don’t belong in the collective narrative or don’t deserve a space to share their stories. I inhabited this realm for a long time, and only obtained self-love through hard-learning against the popularised lack of representation.

viola-davis-tracie-ellis-ross-c2a66caa-b0be-470a-aaef-5269d8d84261

Viola Davies (left) won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for the movie Fences. This was her first win after 4 previous Golden Globe nominations. Tracee Ellis Ross (right) won the Golden Globe for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series for Black-ish.

Self-love is really hard when you feel like an island; when it feels as though every message society sends is so foreign to yourself. I grew up in a society that didn’t encourage my self-love, that subliminally, and sometimes explicitly, taught me that I was not enough and that I certainly would never be “the best”.

My society taught me loathsome self-depreciation.

Television used to encourage the most negative feelings for me. But it is gradually becoming a source of delight, a place to go to feel understood and valued.

Some day Viola or Tracee or Thandie will win an award or nominated and it will just be about them.

I hope that day is near, the day when it won’t be remarkable that someone who is colourful and unique and universal can be hailed as the best at what they do and that the next woman of colour to win a Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a comedy or musical television series will not have to wait until 2052.

I hope that my children, whatever their colour, gender identity, or ability will be able to hold the television up to their faces like a mirror and proudly see themselves reflected and represented in the most beautiful and honest light.

For now, their wins are still also our wins. They are part of the long-awaited slow-dawning collective realisation that we, too, represent the world.

Same Same but Different: Identity, Family and Community

by Oyin Akande

Tate Britain hosted its final Late of the year 2016 on Friday with an evening at Millbank aimed at exploring family and belonging through an evening of art, music, and conversation.

The Cholmondeley Ladies c.1600-10 British School 17th century 1600-1699 Presented anonymously 1955 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00069

The Cholmondeley Ladies c.1600-10 British School 17th century 1600-1699 Presented anonymously 1955 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00069

The evening brought a peculiar object of the past into discussion with more contemporary issues and culture. Inspired by themes of family and identity in the infamous 17th-century painting, ‘The Cholmondeley Ladies’– a popular favourite at the Tate Britain- the night was aimed at creating a conversation around contemporary communities, family, and heritage. The translatability of the image is remarkable. This type of portraiture was very popular in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods but the linearity and the non-naturalism of the image are very familiar tropes to the contemporary eye.

 

nadine_ijewere_-_credit_nadine_ijewere_2016

Photography: Nadine Ijewere, Victoria & Jennifer Same//Difference

The painting of the Cholmondeley Ladies is shrouded in an attractive mystery. The artist is unknown and, indeed, the identities of the figures are ambiguous. The image is of ‘Two Ladies of the Cholmondeley Family, Who were born the same day, Married the same day, And brought to Bed [gave birth] the same day’, as the inscription states, yet there is nothing in the genealogical tables either to support or refute the assumption that the subjects were twins or even sisters, which is the general assumption. They might only have married into the Cholmondeley family and the fact that they shared the same birthday could be explained as pure coincidence. Nevertheless, they share a strong resemblance.

A superficial glance will inform you that the figures are identical but the painting plays games and you are continuously finding idiosyncrasies with increased familiarity with the work.

Nadine Ijewere’s work offers such an interesting dialogue with the 17th-century oil painting. The Jamaican-Nigerian photographer struggled with her own mixed identity and the disconnection she felt from her heritage growing up in London. She developed an interest in people and culture and used her photographs to explore it. “I’m interested in how other people identify and celebrate who they are and where they’re from,” she explains.

Ijewere started Same//Difference, a personal project, to explore family and heritage through physical traits of siblings. Her project mainly documents non-Caucasian women as she hopes to give a platform to under-represented ethnicities and identities. She is interested in sisters stating that ‘being a sister and having sisters is special. Sisters share strong bonds. And that bond stretches further too, between women, uniting them and helping them recognize the beauty within one another’, in an interview with i-D magazine earlier this year.

Photography: Nadine Ijewere Amin & Mina, Zena & Ama, Erin, Beth & Rebecca Same//Difference

Photography: Nadine Ijewere Amin & Mina, Zena & Ama, Erin, Beth, Rebecca Same//Difference

I am a particular fan of the way she uses closeness and intimacy in the photographs. Her subjects are in contact with each other in away, perhaps only siblings can be. Faces are typically touching, sisters are in a comfortable embrace- one sibling might subtly mirror the other . The obvious resemblances of the siblings are only highlighted by the beauty of their differences. Next to on another, these sisters exhibit and celebrate their collective heritage. But as the eye moves across the image, almost disconcertedly, you discover their individualisms. And it is mystifying.

An image from a portrait serious of Bob Marley taken in 1974 by Dennis Morris, then a teenage photographer who skipped school to photograph one of Marley's concerts. Photography: Dennis Morris

An image from a portrait serious of Bob Marley taken in 1974 by Dennis Morris

Elements of the Same//Difference project has also recently been used in the Gap #doyou Fall 2016 campaign.

Late at the Tate:Generation also featured a photography exhibition documenting black diasporic communities in London in the 60s and 70s, ‘Stan Firm Inna Inglan: Black Diaspora in London, 1960-1970’, featured eight photographers: Raphael Albert, Bandele ’Tex’ Ajetunmobi, James Barnor, Colin Jones, Neil Kenlock, Dennis Morris, Syd Shelton and Al Vandenberg, whose photographs were as varied as their backgrounds and experiences of London. Many were vibrant, such as the nightlife culture and the interracial couples that fascinated Ajetunmobi after he stowed away to London from Nigeria, and the large community living in an Islington council housing project that features in former dancer of the English Royal Ballet Colin Jones’ The Black House 1973-76. But they could also be dark, such as the work of Dennis Morris- the photographer famous for his images of Bob Marley– whose London certainly appears more bleak and dangerous. The exhibition is a documentation of community through the literal lens of people within these communities. It is interesting to think how these fit next to the prevailing narratives that have been handed down to us about black communities of this time. The exhibition marks a moment where control over our representation was returned to the black man (literally ‘men’, would have been great to have some female names).

The Black House: 1973-1976. Photography: Colin Jones Thandie Kay

The Black House: 1973-1976. Photography: Colin Jones

colin-8_600_903

The Black House: 1973-1976. Photography: Colin Jones

 

A young gun in Hackney in 1969. Photograph: Dennis Morris


Follow Nadine Ijewere on Instagram and Twitter

Follow Oyin Akande on Instagram and Twitter

Artist Zak Ove’s ‘The Invisible Men’

12965059_1751099751792686_1445192385_nForeword by Kay

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.

A woman photographs the sculptures "Black and Blue: The invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness", by artist Zak Ove, at Somerset House in London, Britain October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

“Black and Blue: The invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness”, by Zak Ove, at Somerset House in London October 4, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Stefan Wermut

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.

 

The Invisible Men at ‘Untiled Art Fair’ Miami. Photo: Zak Ove

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.

“The installation comments on the relationship between power, beauty, identity and skin color,” said the organizers of 1:54.

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 William Rubin Kota, Master artist, Gabon, 19th century. Wood, brass, copper, iron. Height: 26 in. (66 cm.) © 2015 Visko Hatfield.

 

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.

Zak Ové at Modern Forms's Untitled 2016 booth

Zak Ové at Modern Forms’s Untitled 2016 booth

 


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