Artist Zak Ové: Stamping Caribbean identity through mas

[Many thanks to Carlyle Farrell for bringing this item to our attention through Critical.Caribbean.Art. on Facebook.] Janelle de Souza (Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday) writes about Zak Ové’s latest commissioned work, Moko Jumbie 2021 [shown above], on view at Art Gallery Ontario.

To visual artist Zak Ové, Carnival is a fascinating example of multiculturalism and mas is a very important artistic medium that has not been taken seriously enough.

He believes mas needs to be acknowledged as an artform as it speaks to millions of people globally.

“To me, it’s really important to understand how masquerade can work as a tool of emancipation, how transfigurement through costume really helps one to excel and understand who one really is in a deeper sense. There’s no end to the lessons, philosophies and ideologies, artistically, I’ve taken from Carnival and I’ve tried to put back into my work.”

His latest piece, Moko Jumbie 2021, has done just that.

Commissioned by Art Gallery Ontario, the sculpture is 25 feet high. The human figure is about seven feet tall with enlarged hands and feet and a golden-coloured breastplate with the face of a young male masquerader. It is cast in fibreglass with graphite-coloured spray paint, with wings eight feet high, made of aluminium sheets and coated with two-toned paint.

The stilts are steel scaffold poles made to look like bamboo, and the figure’s shoes are size 17 Nike Air Jordans with the toes cut off to look like “washikongs” that are too small for the owner, as Ové remembered seeing as a child in TT. “I was interested in the multiplicity of the character as spirit as well as in flesh, and how one can composite that within the design of the work. It’s a fusion of New World materials that can then be used to speak about old-world values in a traditional masquerade. When you infuse into any old-world tradition, whether is masquerade or African statue or mask-making, with New World materials, it reopens a contemporary dialogue into what the pieces are, how they have been made, and who it speaks to in that moment.”

Ové told Sunday Newsday he had previously made two moko jumbies which are now part of the permanent collection at the Sainsbury African Galleries of the British Museum. The work was commissioned to speak about the relationship between Africa and the Caribbean, and he is excited that those “deities” get to be at home and be a part of their original communities.

He chose the moko jumbie as a representation of the Caribbean because it is a powerful part of mas across the Caribbean as well as in the UK, US, and Canada. [. . .]

“It’s always a big adulation and a big responsibility when somebody asks me to make a work to speak about the Caribbean in context in that way. If anything, you’re spurred to do your best work in that moment, because a lot of people are looking. You have to acknowledge the power and impact of what that might feel like for people of the Caribbean to come and see that. [. . .]

Born in London to acclaimed Trinidadian filmmaker Horace Ové and Irish immigrant Mary Irvine, Ové, 55, graduated with a BA in film as fine art from Central St Martin’s School of Art in 1987.

His work is heavily influenced by his frequent visits to TT to see his family for Carnival and summer vacations. He also worked with his father documenting calypsonians and masmakers, including Peter Minshall and his 1983 band River and the Mighty Shadow. [. . .]

For full article, see

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