Black head of state by the pop art artist Jacob Zekveld could be described as a painting that embodies the spirit of the 1960s and the Flower Power movement. It is one of a series of cheerful pictures bearing titles such as This is Holland, Sleeping Beauty, Royal visit (Charlie Chaplin) and What a day for a daydream. Like the other works it is executed in hard colours and even planes, but features an affable cartoonlike character.
Wunderkind Zekveld made a spectacular debut with these works in 1965. A year later he exhibited with Woody van Amen (1936), Wim Gijzen (1941) and Reinier Lucassen (1939) at Galerie Delta in Rotterdam, in a show entitled 4 wonderkinderen. All four artists were heavily influenced by pop art from England and America, which stimulated them to use advertising, TV programmes and cartoons as the sources for their images.
In contrast with Zekveld’s amiable depiction of this black man, his colleagues’ representations of ‘blacks’ in 1966 were less affable. The painter Gust Romijn (1922) depicted Cassius Clay the boxer with a forbidding face, while the sculptor Leendert Janzee designed a bronze sculptor entitled Friendly head of state, which comprised the portrait head of an African man with soldiers fighting on his head instead of hair.
In 1966 21-year-old Zekveld was the toast of the Dutch galleries. In that one year he had two solo exhibitions and exhibited at nine group shows, including one in Rio de Janeiro and one in Paris, at the de Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. In 1968 his work was also displayed at the Venice Biennale, alongside that of Joseph Beuys (1921 –1986) and David Hockney (1937).
The titles of his solo exhibitions are revealing: Jacob in Wonderland in Galerie Delta in 1966, Jacob in Spiegelland (Jacob through the Looking-Glass), in 1967 in Galerie Delta, and The Zekveld Follies in Galerie T in Haarlem in 1968. The newspapers reported brisk sales of his work, remarking that the museums had been too slow off the mark and had therefore missed the boat. The Groninger Museum did respond quickly, buying the present work immediately in 1966.
Esther Schreuder in Black is Beautiful, Rubens to Dumas catalogue 2008
film by Zekveld: http://catalogue.nimk.nl/site/?page=%2Fsite%2Fartist.php%3Fid%3D4045
About me EN:
In 2008 I was the guest-curator of the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. Important advisors Elizabeth McGrath (Rubens and colleagues), Carl Haarnack (slavery in books), Elmer Kolfin (slavery in prints and paintings) en Adi Martis (contemporary art). Gary Schwartz made his research for The Image of the Black in Western Art available.
In 2014 my essay ‘Painted Blacks and Radical Imagery in the Netherlands (1900-1940)’ was published in The Image of the Black in Western Art Volume V (I). (ed. David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates jr.)
In 2017 I published a book about the black servants at the Court of the Royal Van Oranje family. More than a thousand documents have been found about their lives. (only in Dutch)
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