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Celebrated Artist ZOOBS Explains Why he created his powerful Madonna & Fracked Baby piece

August 5, 2015

ArtsMixed MediaPainting | by Harry Seymour


Los Angeles based artist ZOOBS sat down to talk to Candid about why he created his evocative Madonna & Fracked Child piece recently. The artist’s innovative style blends mixed media to create powerful, thought provoking images that capture life in its most diverse, and sometimes harrowing forms. His evolution as a person has led to a transformation of his work which was previously centered around the notion of perfection, but nowadays reflects the social, political and cultural implications of life in modern society. The themes of his work are an exploration of the complex relationships between parent and child, life and death, society and culture and consumerism and the natural world.

Originally from London and born in Chelsea in 1972, ZOOBS, whose real name is Zubair Ansari studied Fine Art at the Slade School of Art, before later gaining a first class degree in Graphic Design and Photography with a commendation in Art Direction from Kingston University in Surrey. In the late 90’s, he was awarded a scholarship to train under the mentorship of the image- maker and colour-creator Serge Lutens at Shiseido Cosmetics International in Tokyo and Paris. During this period he employed various artistic practices – painting, sculpture, performance art and photography. The early loss of his father, and his belief that he would one day be reunited with him would figure strongly in the artist’s work. As a teenager, ZOOBS was captivated by images of perfection and expressed an interest in fashion and photography.

His work has been exhibited globally alongside the likes of leading fashion photographer Rankin – a co-founder of Dazed and Confused, and celebrated artists such as Takashi Murakami. But with the passage of time, ZOOBS’ sense of what is important in life has evolved and is now reflected in his artworks on a deeper level. One of his most recent pieces – Madonna & Fracked Child is inspired by his concern for our planet and a commentary on social activist and fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood’s manifesto, as well as being a response to the dangerous, toxic practice of Fracking.The artist is rejecting the insatiable greed of the oil and gas companies that carry it out.

ZOOBS explains his transformation of perception with regard to incorporating significant social and political elements into his art. He tells us about his motivation behind Madonna & Fracked Child: ‘The piece stems from a certain responsibility that comes with being an artist. Artists have a voice and this voice I believe must be used in a way that benefits life as a whole. During my early years, my art was frivolous and to a certain degree, I’d say quite self-serving. I’d feel suffering not only within myself but as an empath, and also within the people around me, but I chose not express it within my art. I ran away from it, I naively believed that ignorance was bliss. My art then imitated a perfect life that I would imagine and yearn for. My images reflected perfection, a fantasy, something unreal. But of course, life never is perfect. As I grew older, a sense of mortality started to kick in and I found it incredibly important for my art to imitate life as it was – with all its imperfections. I began using literature to reflect this by way of incorporating it into my images.’

Madonna and Fracked Child, Mixed Media on Wood, Copyright ZOOBS
Madonna and Fracked Child, Mixed Media on Wood, Copyright ZOOBS

The artist clarifies a pivotal moment that touched his heart and raised his consciousness: A few years ago, whilst watching documentaries on nature and our planet – which I am endlessly fascinated with, I came across ‘Gasland’, a very powerful documentary about Fracking by the film maker Josh Fox. It was an eye opener. It’s shocking how greed can override morals. Greed is an evil that exists and we can all fall short of the glory unless we keep ourselves in check. Large oil and gas companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chesapeake Energy, Anadarko, BP, and Chevron to name a few, will do anything to make a quick buck and this at the expense of human and animal life, and our beautiful planet.’

ZOOBS then began to follow Dame Vivienne Westwood’s Anti-Fracking campaign and felt compelled to help raise awareness to its horrors. It was during this period he began to research extensively around the ‘horrendous practice.’ He tells us: ‘I learned of the endless horror stories, the suffering caused to humans and animals alike, and of course the large number of deaths caused by it. According to the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air, the death toll caused by fracking has reached a staggering 16,447 – yet still fracking is practiced widely.’

As the result of his innate, heartfelt experience of following the deadly practice, ZOOBS created his Madonna & Fracked Child piece – an artwork with a metaphorical, visual language which encompasses the anti-fracking movement; I set out to create an image that would at first glance seem pleasant, but on closer inspection, would be quite horrific. I chose to doctor the ‘Sistine Madonna,’ an oil painting by the artist Raphael Sanzio, replacing the Madonna with Dame Vivienne Westwood herself, holding onto a brutally disfigured child, affected by the horrors of fracking. The head of the child mimicking the plastic doll which Vivienne Westwood has been seen in public with during recent years, as a ploy to highlight the horrors of fracking. Black tears fall down the faces of the Cherubs as well as St Barbara and St Sixtus. This particular piece honours 600 of the deceased from the list provided by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air. A larger piece will honour all 16,447.’

By Ray Kinsella