Zak Ové
‘The Invisible Men’

The original sculpture bought by Horace Ové in Kenya alongside an Invisible Man in progress.
Horace Ové at Somerset House, October 2016

The Invisible Men is a series of sculptural works by British artist, Zak Ové.

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.

Horace Ové

Horace Ové was born in Belmont, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1939. He came to Britain in 1960 to study painting, photography and interior design. After working as a film extra in Rome, he returned to London to study at the London School of Film Technique. He began work on Man Out, a surreal film about a West Indian novelist who has a mental breakdown. The project was never completed, but in 1966 Ové directed The Art of the Needle, a short film for the Acupuncture Association. This was followed by another short, Baldwin’s Nigger (1969), in which novelist James Baldwin discusses Black experience and identity in Britain and America.


Horace Ové, The Black Safari, (Comedy) 1972
Horace Ové, King Carnival, (Documentary) 1973
Horace Ové, Pressure


Biography and filmography of Horace Ové on BFI : Screenonline

Horace Ové: Coming Home. Polly Pattullo, Carribean Beat, Issue 10, Summer 1994

‘The Boy from Belmont’, Interview with Horace Ové by Josanne Leonard, Trinidad and Tobago Review, October 2007

Horace Ové, My Best Shot, The Guardian, August 25, 2016


Portrait of James Baldwin by Horace Ové
A young Horace Ové
Black Power meeting, London 1970’s. Michael X, self styled black revolutionary and civil rights activist, seated second from left. Photograph by Horace Ové
Michael X and entourage in Paddington station. 1967. Photograph by Horace Ové See: Links – Horace Ové, My Best Shot, The Guardian
Left: Horace Ové’s parents. Right: Ové receiving a CBE in 2007.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono giving a bag of their hair to Michael X to be auctioned for the benefit of the Black Power commune. 4 February, 1970. Photograph by Horace Ové
Anti-Vietnam protest in Hyde Park. Photograph by Horace Ové.
Still image from the set of Pressure, 1975.
Ové as a young actor in Rome in the early 1960’s.
Ové (second from left) as an extra.
Horace and his daughter Indra in Kenya. The original sculpture used as a model for Zak Ové’s Invisible Men was bought on this trip.
Burial of calypso legend, Lord Fluke, Trinidad, 1973.
A Shango Baptist ceremony. Shango baptists, is a Trinidadian terms for worshipers who adhere both to Baptist and Orisha beliefs and customs. Trinidad, 1973.
In your face. London, 1968.

Zak Ové

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.



Zak Ové, A Land So Far



The essential form of the Carnival that emerged and developed in the post Classical West was created by the interaction of two diametrically opposed but interlocking forces – the desire of dominant power to contain potentially existentially threatening social energies through sublimation in the form of a regular (typically annual) reversal ritual in which the normally dominant hierarchy and ideology were theatrically mocked, subverted or ignored and social roles reversed – and conversely, the desire of the relatively powerless to express those very energies.


Zak Ové – Images of Carnival

Which Way Is Wonderland, Trinidad, 2006.
Senor Gomez, Trinidad, 2006.
Attillah, Trinidad, 2006.
Fancy Sailor, Trindad, 2006.
Black Indians, Trinidad, 2006.
Fancy Sailors, Invaders Bay, Trinidad, 2006.
Frog Mouth, Trinidad, 2006.
Moco Jumbies, Trinidad, 2006.
Majesty Revoked, Trinidad, 2006.
Molotov Cocktail, Trinidad, 2006.
Paranin Blue Devils Trinidad, 2006.
Paradise Lost, Trinidad, 2006.
Psychedelic Sailor II, Trinidad, 2006.
Psychedelic sailor, Trinidad 2006.
Serpents Worship, Trinidad, 2006.
The Devil Is White Trinidad, 2006.
Surrender, Trinidad, 2006.

Horace Ové – Images of Carnival

Historical Images of Carnival

Battle of Carnival and Lent, Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564 – 1638).
An early depiction of Carnival in Rio by French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret (1768 – 28 June 1848). Carnival in Brazil has roots extend that extend to 1600 and encompasses a long history of radicalism and civil unrest.
Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin
Men in drag, Carnival Rio de Janeiro, 1930s.
Claudia Jones (1915 – 1964), Trinidad born activist. Founder of founded Britain’s first major black newspaper, The West Indian Gazette (1958) and the predecessors of the Notting Hill Carnival
In October 2008, Britain’s Royal Mail commemorated Jones with a special postage stamp.


Carnivalesque – Wikipedia

In Theory Bakhtin: Carnival against Capital, Carnival against Power, Andrew Robinson, September 9, 2011, Ceasefire Magazine

Claudia Vera Jones, Biography, Starry Messanger

Notting Hill Carnival: the early years, The Guardian, Josy Forsdyke, 24 August 2014

Ralph Ellison (1914 – 1994)

Born in 1914 in Oklahoma City, the grandson of slaves, Ralph Waldo Ellison and his younger brother were raised by their mother, whos husband died when Ralph was 3 years old. His mother supported her young family by working as a nursemaid, a janitor and a domestic.


Interview with Ralph Ellison by Alfred Chester & Vilma Howard in The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction, No. 8 – Spring, 1955

‘Man Underground’. Review of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man by Saul Bellow published in Commentary, June, 1952

How an ‘Invisible’ Man Was Seduced by His Visibility by William Grimes in The New York Times, May 16, 2007. A review of Rampersad’s biography of Ellison

Justice for Ralph Ellison by David Denby, April 12, 2012 in The New Yorker

The Astrology of Ralph Ellison, Amir Bey, 2007



Invisible Man, Original typescript, Page 1, Ralph Waldo Ellison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Fanny McConnell. McConnell and Ralph Ellison married in August 1946.
The Invisible Man, Published by Random House, New York (1952), First edition.

Ben Jonson & The Masque of Blackness

Benjamin “Ben” Jonson (1572 – 1637) was an English playwright, poet, actor, and literary critic of the 17th century, who had a lasting impact upon English poetry and stage comedy. He popularised the comedy of humours. He is best known for the satirical plays Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone, or The Fox (c. 1606), The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and for his lyric poetry; he is generally regarded as the second most important English playwright during the reign of James I after William Shakespeare.


Ben Jonson, George Vertue, after ‘Gerard Honthorst’, 1730, engraving. (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)
Inigo Jones’ costume design for a Daughter of Niger from The Masque of Blackness
Inigo Jones’ costume designs from the Masque of Blackness
Engraved image of The Palace of Whitehall, 1647


Alterity and Assimilation in Jonson’s Masques of Blackness and Beauty. William Over, Culture, Language and Representation, Cultural Studies Journal of Universitat Jaume I, Vol 1, 2004

View the Collection

Gabriele Beveridge, Grace and Mercy, 2016

Nika Neelova, Folded Studio, 2015

Lakwena Maciver, Aerial Basketball Painting; Move in Power, Black and Free, High Like Me, Wildflowers Will Grow, 2021

Daniel Crews-Chubb, Crews-Chubb, 2015