Ové’s installation of identical sculptures was the stand-out work at the 2016 edition of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair when 40 of his two-metre-tall figures dominated the courtyard of Somerset House. For YSP, Ové has expanded the work to present an assembly of 80 sculptures.
The form of Ové’s totemic figure is taken from an ebony wooden sculpture his father, the celebrated filmmaker Horace Ové, gave him in the 70s. Over the years, the sculpture from Kenya has come to metaphorically represent ‘the complexities of contemporary identity.’
When Ové’s installation of masked men was shown in London, it directly referenced Ben Jonson’s play The Masque of Blackness, which was performed at Somerset House in 1605 by white actors in blackface. Ové also took inspiration from the origins of the Trinidad carnival, which over the years has become a national festival that symbolises freedom and defiance after African slaves used masks and Calypso music to mock their 18th-century masters’ masquerade ball.
Installing the army of repetitive figures with their raised hands at YSP has undoubtedly had a powerful impact upon the rural landscape, taking on new connotations and associations, and built upon Ové’s exploration of African identity and history.
Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness by Zak Ové will be at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, WF4 4JX until June 3, 2018.