Zak Ové @ Volta, New YOrk!
Last week I received an email by London-based artist Zak Ové announcing his New York debut show at Volta, the successful art fair taking place these days at 7W 34th Street, directly across the Empire State Building. I was very pleased to hear it!!
Ové attained a BA in Film as Fine Art at St Martins School of Art in London, and from there pursued a career in both film and photography. He is an extraordinary Film Director, Photographer and Sculptor.
I 'met' Zak's work many years ago while working at the tv series Funky Black Shorts for the Community Channel in London. His short film ‘I Have a Dream’ (2002) caught my attention immediately. It is absolutely brilliant! The film was the winner of the best short film award as well as Best Director and Best Up and Coming Talent at the Black Film Awards in the UK, and was screened at various film festivals around the world. ‘I Have a Dream’ was shot in New York where Zak lived for many years.
It must be now emotional for the artist to come back to NY, presented by The Fine Art Society (one of the most prestigious art galleries in London) with an important exhibition at Volta.
After a successful 2010, including a touring exhibition in London and Berlin and his video, A Land so Far shown in Afrodizzia, curated by Chris Ofili at TATE Britain, this new show can only portend a natural step forward in his career.
Last year I contacted the artist with the intention of writing an article on his work. He kindly invited me to visit his studio. The beautiful tour around his creations inspired my senses. My mind was traveling between deep colours and powerful energy. Here below my article.
A TIME TRAVELLING EXPERIENCE ON THE OCEAN’ WAVES - THE ART OF ZAK OVÉ
"Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
Let me forget about today until tomorrow"
(Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man).
The waves of the Caribbean Sea touch the sand of the Trinidadian shore. They oxidize the ships standing there, like derelicts of history, while the joy of Carnival spreads all over the island.
It is that time of the year for celebration and revelry, when people come together without the barriers of culture, colour, class or tradition.
This is the enchanting stage for Zak Ové’s photographic project, Transfigura. An ongoing project the British/Caribbean artist started in 2000, following the two-day Carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Over the years, the body of work has developed a close relationship to some of the Carnival’s regular characters (Mas) such as Fancy Sailor, Midnight Robber, Indians (based on the indigenous people from North America) and Blue Devil (Jab Jab).
Transfigura, literally means, across the figure. Through the change of form, every person taking part in the Carnival, engages in a ritual that implies the superior level of a spiritual state, that particular moment of disrobing the social individual, allowing entry into another self. The playful one - through masking and colouring - allows the Mas to connect with human history and his own personal roots with Mother Earth.
The artist says on this project: “I have concentrated on trying to capture moments through their radical process of exaltation, when these masqueraders leave behind their namesake, and fully embellish the fantasy world of their characters. By the time they hit the streets, and when they face and enter the unfolding drama, a year has been spent dreaming, and slowly piecing together, all the elements that allow this final transfigurement. Moreover: by engaging, year after year, with the same character, the masquerader is involved in a continuous, organic and never-ending process, in which each festival is only a stop - a showcase, if you like - for his or her ever-developing ‘otherness’, in a journey, internal and external, without a definitive destination, or end.”
In recent years, Zak Ové’s project has evolved to a more intimate stage. Away from the bacchanalian Carnival experience, he moved his attention to some of the characters, isolated from the crowd. He has been given particular attention to the Fancy Sailors Mas, developing staged photographs where the characters beautifully stand within a captivating landscape imbued with history.
A splendid photograph within the latest series, is Paradise Lost. The Fancy Sailors Mas, four of them, with their elaborate costumes, recall Ulysses, time travelers embarking on a personal and communal journey into history and tradition.
We observe an image that looks like a still from a science-fiction film or a dream, vanished in the spectator’s memory. Time and space have lost their conventional meanings, here. The costumes refer to the annual tradition of Christmas garments, symbols such as the reindeer, the Christmas tree and Santa Claus mixed with local props.
Reality merges with surrealism. The Fancy Sailors Mas walk on stage with their bulky hats, with the same softness of Neil Armstrong’ first steps on the Moon. The tambourine man, on top of one of the hats, recalls the traditional Egyptian storytellers’ heritage going back in time to the Middle Ages. This is a traditional figure of importance, he is the one narrating stories and epic poems to the people.
Superb energy travels between these characters, the landscape, and the viewer. The rusty boats and sand’s predominant reddish hues, together with the blue palette of the sea and the sky, welcome the stories of legacy to be told and shared with the young generation.
In past centuries, the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, accompanied the ships of slaves from Africa to the new continent. Here began the African diaspora, when Black Africans were dispersed from their original homeland. These stories evoke years of slavery, imperialism, colonialism and oppression. The Carnival has always been considered as a moment of release from this historical repression.
Zak adds: “Traditionally, within the coded linguistics of the ritual, breakable only to the members of the community, playing of masquerade in the carnival became also a clear political tool, for the slaves and the Caribbean underclass, to mock and challenge their masters, and make comment on the times. And most importantly, it was a way of keeping alive aspects of their culture that would otherwise be repressed, by their plantation masters and the Church. Today, the outcome is a fusion of fragments from global history and elements of fantasy, religions and dreams, all played out by everyday men and women from every class and colour - side by side.”
The African identity and tradition is a big part of Zak’s history. Born and raised in London, from a Caribbean/African father (the filmmaker Horace Ové) and British/Irish mother, he began to explore both heritages from young age. His artistic expression goes from film and photography to sculpture.
Inspired by African masks, Ové creates a series of incredible tri-dimentional artwork. This new body of work includes the Seven African Powers/Magnificent Seven, Leap of Faith, King Columbus, The Time Thief amongst others. These sculptures are made of recycled materials and junk objects - both traditional and contemporary such as shells, black dolls, Christian effigies, African masks, copper and brass - perfectly composed together into a new form and meaning.
Zak describes this extended part of his new art practice within his artist’s statement: “Using found objects and discarded junk, I create a kind of collective cultural detritus. ʻLeap of Faithʼ is emblematic of a power struggle in the mind of the individual in seeking a place within this world. I am capturing, and exploring, narratives where my characters refuse to reside in their predicament, but instead chose to change their circumstance, in order to better them selves and this theme is consistent through out.”
A few months ago, A Land So Far, Zak Ové’s latest film, debuted at the Tate Britain in occasion of Chris Ofili’s exhibition and events. The 8 minutes film is a kaleidoscopic journey into his Transfigura’s body of work, accompanied by a hypnotising soundtrack.
Altered states of existence push the humanity close to its origin and identity. The modern Ulysses travels to discover his own history. A new language, made to be understood subliminally level, passing through the navel, marvellously reconnects, in Zak’s work, the past and the future.
Text by Alessandra Migani