Zoobs (Zubair) Ansari is a British artist of Indian and Pakistani heritage. He draws on personal experience to explore contemporary society’s preoccupation with physical perfection, popular culture and celebrity, acknowledging the seductive allure of beauty, fame and wealth, while recognising the troubling psychological, emotional and physical consequences of blindly pursuing these goals. Focussing mainly on the human face, Zoobs works in a variety of media including photography, audio, video, sound, sculpture and performance. His works reflect a wide range of influences from art, illustration, fashion, film and music.
Zoobs was raised in London until the sudden death of his father when he was eight years old. Shortly after, his mother moved the family to Islamabad, where he remained until returning to the UK at the age of fifteen. The death of his father and his struggles to assimilate in these two widely differing cultural environments affected him profoundly, driving him into self-imposed isolation and escape to the glamorous popular culture of 80s TV shows including Dallas and Dynasty.
Zoobs also became interested in pop stars including, Debbie Harry, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad of ABBA and the way in which the fictional personas of these celebrity figures were created using hair, make-up, clothing and lighting. This was in a process which he named “posterization” – and how the ordinary could become empowered through this transformation. Zoobs began experimenting with art; initially spending hours drawing his favourite celebrity icons before going on to incorporate cassette tape recordings and photography in his attempts to capture his subjects.
Following a degree at Kingston University, Zoobs went on to a position with the in-house graphic design team at the Paris headquarters of Shiseido Cosmetics, under the tutelage of image maker and perfumer, Serge Lutens. Lutens’ meticulously prepared, stylized photography shoots for the luxury Japanese cosmetics brand were to be a significant influence on the development of Zoob’s photography, image-making and video production.
In 2005 Zoobs departed from his career in commercial photography to focus on more personal work. His early photography draws on a diverse range of influences, spanning artists from Tamara de Lempicka, Modigliani and Alphonse Mucha, to film makers, such as Stanley Kubrick. His subjects included models and music industry icons as well as royal and political celebrities, whom he initially represented in a highly stylized form reminiscent of fashion shoots.
Zoobs’s photographic work later evolved to include the addition of drips and splashes of acrylic and household paints, along with slogans or song lyrics inscribed with collage, Indian ink or marker pens, sometimes nearly obliterating the original portrait. These unique multimedia pieces brought him significant acclaim, culminating in his irreverent portrayals of Prince William as the “King of Pop” and the Duchess of Cambridge as “God Save the Future Queen,” – recalling the Sex Pistols’ notorious album cover.
Following a series of commercially successful exhibitions in London, in 2013 Zoobs decided to move to the USA – the birthplace and natural home of celebrity culture.
Moving between New York and Los Angeles, Zoobs began working on a series of “video portraits” inspired by Warhol’s screen tests and the “Superstars” whom Warhol selected as his muses. In Zoob’s work the subjects are often actors, musicians and models, as well as people he would randomly pick from the world around him. The video portraits record both the preparations for the shoot and the shoot itself and draw on the visual language of fashion and cinema. Some are overlaid with interviews with Andy Warhol, including art historian Edward Lucie-Smith’s 1981 interview with Warhol for the BBC, while others are married to audio sound bites, produced by Zoobs, recording his own vocals, or that of his muses, reciting poetry, prose and affirmations.
Zoobs’ interest in Warhol was triggered by the similarities in the childhood experiences of the two artists – both were raised in immigrant families with strong cultural values, both suffered the loss of their fathers at a young age and were raised by strong mothers and both began their careers in commercial design before becoming artists. Several works produced in this period explore Zoobs’ identification with Warhol, sometimes in a humorous way.
We now live in a world where the arrival of social media has made real Warhol’s quote, “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes;” Zoobs’ recent photographic work explores the damaging consequences to individuals of an obsessive pursuit of that ambition.