Strolled along to Zak Ove’s exhibition at Somerset House. It was advertised as ‘A major new exhibition celebrating the past 50 years of Black creativity in Britain and beyond.’
Zak who curated the exhibition described it as: ‘a review and a celebration of our Caribbean and African culture that has permeated and contributed to British society”. His publicist describes it as: ‘taking its starting point as the radical work of his father Horace Ové,’
Somerset House wrote:” Beginning with the radical Black filmmaker Horace Ové and his dynamic circle of Windrush generation creative peers and extending to today’s brilliant young Black talent globally,”
While the exhibition had some interesting work the curation was a disaster and disgrace. Rather than a summary or review of Black creativity in London it focussed on his father. Calling him a radical film maker is a total misnomer. I knew Horace and watched his work when it first came out. While it had some impact and it is correct that he was pioneering to call his work ‘radical’ is deeply misleading. Taking photographs or making film of radical people is not itself a radical activity. Photographing the Chinese or CuBn revolution does not make one a revolutionary!
Viewing Horace’s work in its own right is not to see anything deeply radical and he does not belong in the same space as Yinka Shonibare or Phoebe Boswell whose works are showcased. These are artists whose work is itself of a radical nature and not merely notable for the artist being a ‘pioneer’. Horace Ove’s film “Pressure’ is not a good film and there are many aspects of it that are distasteful, far from radical, and revealing a seriously conflicted sense of identity. Horace’s social understanding is also seriously shallow. Mouthing protests is not a substitute for depth of human understanding.
There is that ever present drift towards celebrity. There is a photo of a young Margaret Busby but nothing to indicate that she was a publisher and an editor and literary figure.
It does not even reveal the fire within the woman! Why was the photo taken? Because she was/is a Black celebrity?
There is another issue: there is work that has no connection other than Horace Ove. So we have a film of James Baldwin, photo of Eldridge Cleaver etc whose only connection is that they were taken by Horace Ove.
If this was a Horace Ove retrospective that would be Ok. Actually, I would have been interested to come to a Horace Ove retrospective. But this is deceptive and misleading and a curatorial disaster. It fails to be specific enough for a retrospective and is far too shallow as a reflection of Black creativity in any of the periods. It has no real sense of the scale of African cultural presence and then fails to recognise the diversity of activity and there is work that breathes North Africa Franco phone Africa such as the work of Hassan Hajjaj and has no real connection to London or Britain.
Zak’s register is decidedly deficient and serious Caribbean work is sidelined and selection shall we say is idiosyncratic..
To sum up: Horace Ove was never a radical artist though he reflected people who were radical politically and socially. A documentary of a radical political person is not itself an artistically radical activity. There is so much art that was was truly radical art and so much that has simply been ignored perhaps because the artist was not a friend of Zak or his father. This is disgraceful. We need to insist on cultural integrity and not allow this sort of debased curatorship.