Zak Ové Creates Saatchi Gallery Sculpture Garden at Chelsea Flower Show 

Saatchi Gallery is presenting its 2024 RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden with British-Caribbean artist Zak Ové. Titled Abeba Esse, Ové’s garden features his Invisible Man sculptures, and invites visitors to explore an African Diasporic journey and reflect on the terrible legacy of Slavery and Colonialism.

Abeba Esse is divided into three distinct sections taking influence from horticulture of Africa, the Caribbean, and the UK, and depicts an African Diasporic journey, from Africa to the UK via the Caribbean. Visitors take a path through changing landscapes, encountering Ové’s Invisible Man sculptures along their journey. The African section reflects the idea of ‘Paradise Found’, which Ové describes as, “An autochthonous verdant, jungle scene, where plant life grows untamed in a raw and natural state”. 

Moving into the Caribbean, visitors will notice a change in the native lush flora and fauna of the islands to that of tilled earth with planted crops, typical of enslavement plantations. The gateway is marked by a change in the path – from the dark soil of the African jungle to wooden planks that reference the enslaver ships that carried over 12.5 million Africans through the infamous Middle Passage. 

Finally, they will reach a quintessential English garden, featuring the kinds of plants found in stately homes and country houses, indicative of the power and wealth accrued in the UK through the trade in enslaved African people. Throughout the garden, botanical labels record the names of individuals, institutions and corporations who directly benefited from their investments in the transatlantic slave economy and from the Government’s ‘Slave Compensation Commission’, 1833. 

The garden, designed in collaboration with award-winning garden designer Dave Green, encourages important conversations about the themes central to Ové’s work – the African Diaspora, contemporary multiculturalism, globalisation, and the blend of politics, tradition, race, and history that informs our identities. Ové stresses that revealing and heralding the histories and skills of those that were rendered invisible is an important part of writing an inclusive history. He comments, “History can and should be accessed in different ways, so as to engage a variety of audiences, and educate and inform through unexpected mediums such as a flower garden.” 

The titl Abeba Esse is derived from two palindromic words. Abeba – from Ethiopian, meaning flower and Esse – essences, the essential nature of something. Palindromes are read the same backwards as forwards – and that continuous movement is something that is echoed in Ové’s artwork, through time travel and the readdressing of the past to the present and the future. 

Reflecting on his hopes for what visitors will take away from the garden, Ové says: “History is alive and with us every day, the past is the food on our table and the roof over our head. How we got where we are is often obfuscated by the way in which history may have been told. Here visitors have journeyed with the Diaspora and joined together with the sculptures to examine a past that has remained hidden yet beneath our very feet.” 

Dave Green is an RHS Gold award-winning garden designer. With over ten years of experience working with the RHS, he specialises in creating beautifully tranquil escapes with an exceptional eye for detail. 

Zak Ové (b. 1966, London. Lives and works in Las Palmas, Canary Islands) is a British-Caribbean artist with a multi-disciplinary practice across sculpture, film and photography. His work is informed in part through the history and lore carried through the African Diaspora to the Caribbean, Britain and beyond with particular focus on traditions of masking and masquerade as a tool of self emancipation. Ové’s artworks explore the interplay between old world mythology and what he posits as ‘potential futures’, a space where he reinterprets existence into the fantastical. Ové uses modern materials, a sound clash of Caribbean and African colour and the reinvention and appropriation of everyday objects to bring his characters and scenarios to life. His work is a celebration of the power of play, the spirit of imagination in the blurring of edges between reality and possibility, flesh and spirit. In this way, Ové seeks to re-write a history for the future through heralding the past in a new light. 

Zak Ové sculpture garden installation photos by Culturalee.

Zak Ové’s Saatchi Gallery 2024 RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden is at the Royal Hospital Chelsea until 25th May, 2024. 

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