Zak Ové attained a BA in ‘Film as Fine Art’ at St Martins School of Art, and from there pursued a career in both film and photography. He worked as a director on a number of documentaries in India, Trinidad, Jamaica and the US, and as a photographer covered reportage stories across Europe, as well as in Havana, Cuba, the Soweto townships of Johannesburg, Kingston, Jamaica, Mexico City and Morocco. Later his career moved into fashion and advertising.
As a photographer and director of music videos, Ové, already diving into the split world of his identity, found himself working with some of the more radical music acts of the day, deep in the contemporary black music scene, including Lee Scratch Perry, Mos’ Def, The Roots, Tupac, Patra, Soul II Soul and Chaka Demus and Pliers. The strength of this body of work is based on Ové’s ability to create an authentic representation of a specific culture.
His short film ‘I Have a Dream’ (2002) was the winner of the best short film award as well as Best Director and Best Up and Coming Talent at the Black Film Awards in the UK, and was screened at various film festivals around the world.
Since 2000, Zak has returned yearly to Trinidad, to shoot the ‘Old Mas’ characters within the carnival, and this has developed into a body of work entitled ‘Transfiguara’. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this place in the artist’s psyche: a son of a Trinidadian immigrant, Zak defines himself as a man of the Caribbean - if not in words, so in his action, in what his art essentially investigates, and from which point of view this investigation is conducted. And yet, Zak Ové is fundamentally operating from the centre of what would normally be described as ‘western’ culture’, in the ways he employs his knowledge and references, in the ways he implements his thoughts in the creative process, and also in the way he obtains those. Hence, in his art, a conflict is initiated by two parallel messaging systems transmitting simultaneously, which the artist has to constantly carry within him, and respond to.
As in Transfigura Zak Ové is not a documentarist per se, but, at most, an accidental one, or rather a participant – a position from which he is kissing ‘objectivity’ goodbye. In capturing the long journey of the carnival player, from the life of the ordinary, and into the expendable, time-capsuled space of the surreal and the symbolic, Zak, equipped by the knowledge of the outsider/insider, has managed to hold on to the essence and spirit of this defiant act.
Ové, in his choices, subscribes to this essential notion of interpretation, that ‘there is aggression implicit in every use of the camera’ (Susan Sontag, In Plato’s Cave, On Photography). By acknowledging these moral boundaries, Zak explores this ritual, asserting the symbolic importance of the moment and pushing it (his work) way beyond its banal ‘image-bank’ vocabulary. Ové notes the subtext of the event, the seriousness of the act - as a pledge to a people’s resistance and a demand for respect. In this unavoidable transcend lies the beauty of Zak’s touch, in employing what Susan Sontag famously called the ‘tacit imperatives of taste and conscience’ (as above).
Ové was granted a period of artist residency in Trinidad in 2008, which he dedicated to painting. On his return, he has continued to pursue his own art projects, using mainly the media of photography and film and, more recently, sculpture - using found objects. All these varied works carry in them a thin but fine line which quietly, but persistently, entwines all of Ové’s oeuvre together. The artist is taking a step further into his own self – investigating journey, by means of practising his art across a range of media. Time and again, he is returning in his work to a dialogue, an exchange between different representations of identities of past, present and future, all in order to reproach and mesh his cultural ideologies and place them into new and ever-evolving shape and language.