Visual artist Zak Ové talks us through his new, landmark exhibition, Get Up, Stand Up Now: ‘Art helps us attain equality, honesty, and perspective towards our own history.’

Visual artist Zak Ové talks us through his new, landmark exhibition, Get Up, Stand Up Now: ‘Art helps us attain equality, honesty, and perspective towards our own history.’

“I was raised by a village,” says artist Zak Ové of his upbringing in West London. “It was a very outspoken black and West Indian community, [and I was] understanding how assertive one had to be to be seen.”

As the son of an Irish Socialist mum and acclaimed black filmmaker Horace Ové, the artist was raised with strong ideals that have guided him throughout his career: “Politics within the arts has always been very integral from my father’s generation onwards. [It helps us] attain equality, honesty, and perspective towards our own history.”

Now, Ové is honouring those who laid these foundations in Get Up, Stand Up Now, a new landmark exhibition which celebrates 50 years of Black creativity in the UK. The exhibition features historic artworks, new commissions, and never-before-seen work by 100 artists working in art, film, photography, music, literature, design and fashion. This includes the Black Audio Film Collective, Chris Ofili, David Hammons, Ebony G. Patterson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Lubaina Himid, Althea McNish, Steve McQueen, and Yinka Shonibare. 

“I was interested in those men and women who stood up against all odds to make work passionately because they felt a sense of necessity,” says Ové. “They were compelled to develop something credible that they could pass as a baton to their own children or ancestors, which spoke about who they were in that moment, who their parents were, and what this lineage could be.”

Campbell Addy, From the series ‘We Are The Same’.

Ronan McKenzie, ‘I’m Home, 3 Moments’

By spotlighting key figures in the Caribbean and black arts movements in Britain, Ové traces the ways art has built a foundation for voices that have been otherwise silence, marginalised or erased. He cites black music as a central platform for dialogue, giving artists the means of production to reach beyond their immediate circles.

“Sound system culture in this country became totemic, almost like a secondary religion for Caribbean people to congregate and manifest a homegrown culture abroad, and to be amidst their own thing,” he explains. “That dialogue now exists in contemporary art making and has shifted into sculpture, installations, filmmaking, photography, where we are able to share those via the Internet.”

Recognising where black culture was not written into British history, Ové takes great care to not only acknowledge these historic moments of creativity but to seek out work that speaks to moments of absence as well. 

So many of these voices are not seen collectively in exhibitions in this country,” he says, finally. “[The exhibition] reveres what had been forgotten, and how that community connected globally to fulfil a bigger template of multiculturalism worldwide.”

Libita Clayton, ‘BS2, RESIST & REVOLT BLACK HISTORY, LIVE TRANSMISSION, Bristol Art Weekender, BEEF studios, Bristol, UK’

Jenn Nkiru, ‘Still from Neneh Cherry, Kong’, 2018.

Ajamu, from ‘Circus Master Series’, 1997

Alexis Peskine, ‘Aljana Moons II’, Courtesy of Alexis Peskine and October Gallery, London

Armet Francis, ‘Fashion Shoot Brixton Market’, 1973.

Get Up, Stand Up Now is on view at Somerset House in London through September 15, 2019.

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