Dedication of Zak Ové's Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness
at Civic Center Commons 3rd Thursday Block Party
For the next Civic Center Commons 3rd Thursdays Block Party event on July 19 from 5-9 p.m., the public is invited to experience internationally renowned artist Zak Ové’s temporary public art installation Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness, which will be on view through early November. During the event, the public will have an opportunity to hear from the artist while enjoying food, drinks, music, and other free family-friendly activities under the lights of City Hall.
Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness was originally conceived for the grounds of the historic Somerset House in London, which shares a similar government context and architectural characteristics of San Francisco’s Civic Center. The installation consists of 40, 6.5-foot identical black figurative sculptures, each approximately 300 lbs, that stand upright with the figures holding their “hands up” in a precise formation that aligns with the symmetry of the surrounding architecture.
The Arts Commission received funding from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to bring temporary public art to Civic Center Plaza as part of the Civic Center Commons Initiative. Civic Center Commons is a strategic effort led by the City of San Francisco and many partners to foster a sense of community in the heart of the City’s central public spaces and to create a connected, inclusive “commons” for people who live, work and visit the area. The Civic Center Commons (“the Commons”) is a collective name for the UN Plaza, Civic Center Plaza, and Fulton Street between the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Main Public Library. Neighbors, community organizations and cultural institutions are working with City agencies and those who frequent these spaces to bring interactive art installations and play structures; new stewardship approach; more regular activities and events along with food and drink options; and innovative workforce development partnerships.
Ové created Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness in direct reference to a play performed at Somerset House in 1605 titled The Masque of Blackness, which was performed by Anne of Denmark and members of her court who appeared in blackface. The play, according to the artist, “was reflective of the societal shift towards a preference for lighter skin in the early 17th century.” The title of the work alludes to Ralph Ellison’s acclaimed novel Invisible Man (1952), a pioneering reflection on racism in America told through the eyes of an African American man whose skin color renders him invisible. While the “hands up” gesture of the figures was derived from a traditional form, it resonates with current tensions of the political “don’t shoot” symbolism employed by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Fabricated from resin and graphite, the sculptures reference a traditional African figure given to the artist by his father, renowned filmmaker Horace Ové, when he was a young child. For Ové, the ways in which this original sculpture has taken on new layers of meaning through time and has been adapted in his work is a metaphor for the complexities of personal identity.
According to Ové, “Working with sculpture, film and photography to explore African identity, the African diaspora and history, and building on my experience of growing up in a mixed-race family in both London and Trinidad, I play with notions of identity, positing the self as complex, open, and interconnected.”
Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness is a project of the San Francisco Arts Commission with funding from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and in partnership with the Recreation and Park Department.
*Dedication program with the artist and other city officials begins at 5 p.m.
The Civic Center Commons Initiative is a collaborative effort among the City of San Francisco and neighbors, community organizations, and cultural institutions to breathe new life into the City’s central civic spaces, changing how people engage with the place and with each other so that everyone can feel welcome and experience the best of San Francisco every day. For more information, please visit www.civiccentercommons.org.