For our third participation in The Armory Show, Lawrie Shabibi (Booth F14, Pier 92) presents a solo booth by London-based British-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové, comprising four inter-related bodies of work: Doily Paintings, each made of hundreds of new and vintage hand-made crocheted doilies; 3D collage sculptures, one of which (Skateboard P from the Lost Souls series) was previously exhibited at the Great Hall of the British Museum; Star Gazers, monumental masks made from old car parts; and Resistor Transistors, casts of 1980s boom boxes resplendent in brightly-coloured flocking.
Zak Ové seeks to reignite and reinterpret lost culture and mythology using new-world materials whilst at the same time paying tribute to both spiritual and artistic African identity, finding unpredictable ways to express recognisable, traditional African forms. Ové’s practice explores African identity, the African diaspora and African history. Ové draws inspiration from the Trinidad carnival, a tradition started by French immigrants in the 18th century as an elaborate masquerade ball and later turned on its head by its slave participants. Mask making, music and “re-casting” African sculpture, both literally and metaphorically are threads that run throughout his practice.
Skateboard P (2011), a highly embellished mannequin of a boy, was part of the Lost Souls series Ové created for an installation in Minotaur (a group exhibition held by Lazarides in the vaults of Waterloo station in 2011), which comprised various iterations of cross-pollination of man and beast seen through a contemporary African diasporic lens. This work has been exhibited on several occasions in institutions: London Twelve, at the City of Prague Museum (2012), recently at Eco-Visionaries: Art and Architecture after the Anthropocene, Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), Lisbon (2018), and also alongside Ove’s two monumental works Moko Jumbies at the British Museum in 2015 as part of the Celebrating Africa season (Moko Jumbies subsequently became part of the British Museum’s permanent African collection, the first contemporary works by a Caribbean/ diasporic artist to do so, as well as spawning Ové’s Doily Paintings).
On the booth will be a group of Doily Paintings, demonstrating how far Ové has pushed the notion of 2D collage using brightly coloured doilies – crocheted lace or wool mats – to create complex patterns reminiscent of hyperbolic symmetry or fractal geometry. Ové describes these vibrant, rhythmic compositions as “Granny psychedelia”, some in the form of masks, although more often abstract representations of sounds or music. Doilies, aspirational, symbols of a transition from working class to middle class, seen both as “cheap” and “genteel”, exploded in popularity in Britain and its former colonies in the 1950s and 60s - a reaction against Post-war austerity, marking an end of a conformist period for working class women, and the first migrations from the Caribbean. Doily-making is cross –cultural, with a huge geographical spread from Ireland and the UK, to Tunisia, Guatemala, the Caribbean and the Southern United States. Seen against this historical backdrop, the humble doily takes on immense significance.
Over the past 18 months Ové has been using vintage car parts to create monumental mask-like sculptures. Recasting African mask-making on a grand scale, Ové makes use of materials available in the UK. Two of these works will be presented at the Armory Show – Rumplesteelskin, the largest, made from parts from Morris Minors, and Star Gazer X, made with parts from Citroen, Skoda and other vehicles. These works relate closely to Autonomous Morris, a colossal sculpture, also made from vintage car parts, currently on view at the Tishman Speyer Plaza (formerly known as the Economist Plaza) in St James’ in London.
Finally, a group of four Resistor Transistors, casts of 1980s boom boxes adorned with African masks and brightly coloured flocking (previously shown at Resignifications: The Black Mediterranean, a collateral event of Manifesta 12 curated by Awam Amkpa in Palermo, Sicily in 2018) are presented alongside Remix Culture I and 2 (2013), sculptures that incorporate vintage turntables, referencing the central role of music in African diasporic culture.