Zak Ové’s “Canboulay”

The artist’s solo exhibition “Canboulay” was on view at De Buck Gallery (507 West 27th Street, in New York) until November 20, 2021. Here is the description, followed by a review by Artnet. The full title of the article is “Spotlight: See How British-Trinidadian Artist Zak Ové Finds Freedom in Reimagining the Histories of Carnival and Textile Craft.” [Many thanks to Camille Chedda for bringing this item to our attention.]

Description: Zak Ové creates sculpture, painting, film and photography that draws on his upbringing in London and Trinidad. His work is informed by the history and lore carried through the African diaspora to the Caribbean, Britain and beyond with particular focus on traditions of masking and masquerade as a tool of self-emancipation. Ové’s artworks explore the interplay between old world mythology and what he posits as ‘potential futures,’ a space where he reinterprets existence into the fantastical. His work is a celebration of the power of play and the spirit of imagination in the blurring of edges between reality and possibility, flesh and spirit. In this vein, Ové creates a dialogue between tradition and an optimistic future.  

The works in Canboulay create a dialogue between tradition and contemporary life. Through titles, color, and material, the doily works reference the masquerade costumes traditionally donned at Canboulay, an event which originated as a harvest festival that involved dancing, chanting, and music which became the root of calypso. Titles such as the Blue Devil, Pierrot Grenade, a scholar character known for his oratory skills, and Baby Doll directly reference the names of traditional folklore characters. As Ové explains, the process of the masquerade is a process of transformation and exaltation–of growing beyond the definition of what one imagined they could be, as set by the limitations of colonial oppression. After the country’s Emancipation, Canboulay evolved into an expression of liberation for formerly enslaved individuals whose music and Carnival celebrations had been banned. For Ové, these vibrant works capture the spirit of resistance and offer viewers a way to engage with difficult stories in a positive and uplifting light.  

The works in Canboulay explode in dizzying, geometric abstractions. Ové likens the development of his compositions to a coral reef. The process builds organically, as he layers and adds found and collected doilies in radiating patterns, creating a balance between light and dark as well as a combination of textural values. The process is playful and rhythmic, resulting in colorful abstractions that carry the viewer’s eye around the works as though they were alive and moving. Ové’s process is not just intuitive, it is also in many ways self-referential, emotional and an act of homage. Ové sources the handmade doilies globally, aware as he creates that the legacy of their original makers lives on through his works. He speaks of “heralding the maker,” honoring the women, who throughout time and cultures have crafted these detailed objects. The homage also harkens back to his own childhood memories of discovering textile and fibers at his family’s dress shop. Ové also adapts the traditional female craft as a means of transformation. The works explore not just the blurring of reality and myth within the process of masquerade, but also the fluid transitions between male and female.  

Here are excerpts from Artnet:

What You Need to Know: British-Trinidadian visual artist Zak Ové recently opened his first solo exhibition, “Canboulay,” at New York’s De Buck Gallery. The artist’s brilliantly colorful recent works are rooted in the Trinidadian carnival, with its melded African diasporic and European histories. The artist’s most recent works combine crocheted doilies the artist weaves together into mixed-media textile canvases. The works—and the materials—are inspired by the artist’s memories of the festival of Canboulay, a traditional precursor to carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Why We Like It: Ové’s works focus on traditions of masquerade as a tool of self-emancipation, navigating a space between an imagined future and a fantastical past. The celebration of Canboulay originated in a harvest festival in which the traditions of dancing, chanting, and music of the festival ultimately birthed calypso music. The layered and colorful works in the exhibition reference the names of traditional folklore characters: Blue Devil, Pierrot Grenade, and Baby Doll. The festival’s musicality can be felt in these works as well, as Ové layers and weaves together both found and collected doilies in radiating patterns. The resulting colorful abstractions possess a pulsating, lifelike quality. These works are homages, too. Ové celebrates the women who have crafted these detailed objects across centuries and continents, as well as harkening to his own childhood memories of discovering textile and fibers at his family’s dress shop. 

According to the Artist: “I have a real love for doilies and for crochet and I think it comes from my childhood memories of being at my grandmother’s. Doilies were always used in the special rooms that we were never allowed in. It was very much an upwardly mobile sense of embetterment for a lower-middle-class family in the Caribbean to feel that they were coming up in the world… I became interested in a sort of ‘Granny Psychedelia’ that was taking place—that these doilies were often made by repressed women through the 1970s and 1980s in Catholic family homes across South America, across Eastern Europe, across Africa. And what I liked was the way suddenly these sort of fluorescent bright colors would appear in the landscape of the home, to break that repression and give them a sense of freedom. When amassed, when you see hundreds of these things together it becomes almost like a coral reef but it sings of that experience in volume like a choir.” [. . .]

Read more and browse the artist’s work at https://news.artnet.com/buyers-guide/spotlight-zak-ove-de-buck-gallery-2034956.

Also see https://www.artnet.com/galleries/de-buck/zak-ove-canboulay

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