Zak Ové. Invisible Man: Stars and Stripes, 2016. Flocked graphite. 86 5/8 x 22 1/2 x 17 3/4 inches. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of the artist and Vigo Gallery, London
Invisible Man: Stars and Stripes is part of a series of life-sized graphite sculptures by British-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové. Began in 2016, the title of the series evokes Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel, Invisible Man—a pioneering reflection on racism in America told through the eyes of Black man whose skin color has rendered him invisible in society.
Drawing from traditional African and Trinidadian statuary, the sculpture is painted in stars and stripes, overtly alluding to the flag of the United States. By covering the figure in what is considered a symbol of freedom and patriotism for some—but imperialism and oppression for others—Ové recasts an otherwise traditional figure through multivalent cultural and political references, imbuing the object with elements of satire. This sardonic approach recalls the practices of masquerade and transgression of authority common to Caribbean Carnival—a celebration that weaves together stories of slavery, rebellion, and emancipation.
The figure’s “hands up” gesture resonate deeply with the current protests against police brutality and the systemic repression of Black bodies in the US and elsewhere. Ové’s Invisible Man takes on new layers of meaning, channeling the tensions of the “hands up, don’t shoot” slogan and gesture widely used in the Black Lives Matter movement. Simultaneously overlaid with symbols of freedom and oppression, Ové’s sculpture encapsulates complex histories of structural racism, while acting as a powerful visual metaphor that speaks to ongoing struggles for equality and social justice worldwide.