In the year of the 50th anniversary of the Notting Hill Carnival and following on from his installation of Moko Jumbies in the Grand Court of the British Museum last year, Zak Ové has created a courtyard installation at Somerset House that positions a (time travelling) army of masked Invisible men within this historic environment, their symmetry echoing that of the surroundings.
The installation comments on the relationship between power, beauty, identity and skin colour, referencing the Masque of Blackness, a masked play/extravaganza written by Ben Jonson and enacted by Anne of Denmark and her court ladies in the courtyard of Somerset House in 1605. The Masque, was reflective of the societal shift away from notions of black beauty towards a preference for lighter skin in the early 17th Century.
Ové’s Invisible men, inspired by his mixed heritage and by Ralph Ellison’s classic, are surrounded and engulfed within the fountains of the courtyard, a time travelling envoy reclaiming ground for diasporic beauty. Rescaled from an ebony wood sculpture given to Zak in the 70’s by his father, (renowned film maker Horace Ové CBE, Director of the first black British feature film “Pressure” in 1976) into a totemic two meter clay figure then re-cast in graphite (think shading), these figures re-enter a contemporary space, waterproof manifestations of a diasporic scope of infinite variation.
Ové works in sculpture, film, painting and photography and is interested in reinterpreting lost culture and mythology through the repurposing or reimagining of modern and antique found materials. He pays tribute to African and Trinidadian identities which have been given new meanings through the cross-cultural dispersion of ideas and believes strongly in the power of the emancipation of self through the culture of Carnival and Masquerade.