Zak Ové, The Invisible Men, 2016
In his powerful photographs, films, paintings, and sculptures, Zak Ové mines his own Trinidadian and Irish heritage, which he describes as “black power on one side and… social feminism on the other side.”
His work delves into post-colonialism in Britain and Trinidad, the African Diaspora, contemporary multiculturalism, globalization, and the blend of politics, tradition, race, and history that informs our identities. Influenced by the pioneering films of his father, Horace Ové, Zak Ové began his artistic career with a series of exuberant photographs of the participants in Trinidad’s vibrant, multivalent Carnival. He later made forays into sculpture, which he approaches as a form of narrative. Through his sculptural figures, concocted from a dynamic assortment of materials, and resembling African and Trinidadian statuary, Ové plays with notions of identity, positing the self as complex, open, and interconnected.
The series’ first iteration came in the form of a monumental sculptural installation, commissioned by Modern Forms for the courtyard of Somerset House for 1.54 Contemporary African Art Fair in October, 2016. It was conceived as a celebratory act of cultural revisionism, in part a contemporary riposte to Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness. Commissioned by Anne of Denmark, James I’s wife, who once lived at Somerset House, the masque is one of the first representations of blackness in English drama and follows the quest of a number of Ethiopian water nymphs to lighten the colour of their skin in the pursuit of perfect beauty.
At Somerset House, The Invisible Men comprised of forty, 7ft sculptures, the repeated figure rescaled from an ebony wood African sculpture, given to Zak in the 70’s by his father, renowned film maker Horace Ové. The sculpture depicts a powerful male figure with both hands raised in an act of peace.
The Invisible Men emerges from a rich personal, cultural and historical context, encompassing: Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness, the work of Horace Ové, Ralph Ellison’s seminal novel The Invisible Man and the radical, emancipatory potential of the culture of Carnival.
Modern Forms worked with Ové to create the following online archive to partially articulate these strands of history and culture.
Mythic Carnival, Rebecca Anne Proctor, Harpers Bazaar Arabia, 18 June 2018: https://www.harpersbazaararabia.com/art/exhibitions/zak-ove-multimedia-artworks-requite-lost-African-culture