Djordje Ozbolt – Who Say Jah No Dread
Hauser & Wirth Zurich
23 March – 25 May 2013
The day I went to see Ozbolt’s exhibition at Hauser&Wirth I escaped a colossal downpour in the never-ending Swiss winter. “Thank God!” – I thought. Or thank Jah?
Jah is the name used for the Rastafari movement‘s god. It is a recurrent name used in Reggae music and can be found on the mouth of people styled with dreadlocks and wearing a certain attitude. I never believed in Jah, but once I was wearing colorful clothes and growing one single dreadlock.
Hence… I know the deal. Hence: has one of the most important artistic power-houses of the world turned into a dance-hall-inspired space? Thank Jah, not at all.
Very skeptic but glad I enter and find shelter in the gallery. It is quiet – no one besides the staff is around. So I am free to contemplate and wander around undisturbed, just to find out that Ozbolt’s work is everything but a modern hippy Rastafarian claim of any sort.
The exhibition is named after the totemic sculpture Who Say Jah No Dread
– the centerpiece of the exhibition. Exotic animals in Rastafarian colours lye in a pyramidal shape in the brightest and most hidden corner of the gallery. First comes the journey through bright skies and luxuriant green spaces, populated by bizarre creatures.
In these rich yet desolated landscapes, there is a great deal of Ozbolt’s memories of travels and personal adventures around the world. There are small traces of human presence within an urbanized context. Everything is primitive, everything recalls jungles and ancestral remote corners of some part of the world (Africa possibly?). Funnily enough, the only “portrait” of the first half of the exhibition is entitled Venus in Furs, explicit reference to Leopold von Sacher Masoch and his domain of lust and pain.
In Ozbolt’s world, names, titles and epithets seem to play a crucial role, as they are the key to read the witty and intellectual critic of our world. Freakish hybrid creatures (The Transformer) and walking animated wooden statues are depicted admiring the panorama (Clouds that pierce the illusion that tomorrow will be as yesterday) or romantically running in the fields (Dance me till the end of Love). Those words besides the remarkably big pictures are soaking the canvases with a whole new set of signs and messages. It is the collision between East and West, but it is also our everyday life streamed in those still frames.
In the second room, we indeed find another example of Ozbolt’s ability to make, once more, a critic of just certain aspects of our society. In the group of sculptures entitled Fetish Sculptures (1,2 & 3),
the artist embellishes trashy African statues with symbols of contemporary consumers’ taste: Barbie’s wigs, Mercedes-Benz‘s emblem and cupcakes coloured icing – which is exactly the fetishization of objects with an apparent primordial status into something absolutely ridiculous.
One special place of the exhibition is covered by the series of portraits entitled Gentlemen of Ngongo: Shakespeare-inspired costumes are combined with African masks, giving as a result a pseudo-portraits series.
The outcome has something serious and extremely hilarious, against the neutral grey background that all these paintings have in common.
The tour is over. I am still alone in the gallery. It is still raining and I have my bicycle parked outside. I am giggling – and the more I make connections and decipher titles the more I giggle. Before entering the gallery running, I did not know neither Ozbold nor his work. Nor his approach or witty sense of humor. I left that afternoon feeling entertained and happy. Happy to have discovered someone who can have a laugh about things and make some bright and piercing sarcasm about what we have become.
All images © Djordje Ozbolt
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth