Every athlete is an artist by Alessia Belsito
Zakea Page’s dream came true when he won the medal design competition for the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne. The Wellingtonian and Massey University alumnus was inspired by the American poet Maya Angelou, who said, “in diversity there is beauty and there is strength”. Zakea believed this quote truly personified the games, so he designed the 2020 medal to reflect the celebration of excellence, humanity, and culture of the Olympics.
Zakea was presented with the opportunity to perform at the opening ceremony, and his live painting of his medal design – “utilising a hockey stick and a ball dipped in ink to create artwork using the movements of field hockey” – is the perfect union between art and sport. His documentary short film Ink and Gold: An Artist’s Journey to Olympic Glory, which tells his story, has won 22 accolades and counting at film festivals around the world. Now, in a full circle moment, he’s been selected as a judge on the panel for this year’s Youth Olympic Games medal design competition.
Can you tell me about the Youth Olympic Games medal design competition and how you got involved?
I got involved initially from competing in the design competition myself. I entered in the Buenos Aires 2018 and in the Lausanne 2020 competitions. I’ve always been a big fan of the Olympic movement, which has inspired me as an artist and as an athlete. I thought it would be a great way to be a part of the games. I was very fortunate to have won the Lausanne 2020 competition and I think that when opportunity, hard work, and preparation meet, things happen; I was honoured to have that opportunity and I was ready for it.
That led to performing at the opening ceremony because my artwork combines art and sports. I always wanted to be at the games as an athlete, but as I became more fascinated in art, my new dream was to perform at the opening ceremony. The Olympic committee talked to me about the medal designs, so I used that opportunity to pitch my performance. The performance was about the idea that every athlete is an artist.
So, it isn’t customary for a medal winner to perform at the games?
No, it’s not. They knew about my performance work because I talked about it to the media, so they asked me to do a two-minute video on social media. It was a painting performance of Yodli, the mascot for the 2020 games and I went absolutely ham on it.
Now that you have been selected as a judge on the panel for this year's competition, how does it feel to come full circle?
It’s very exciting! It’s a privilege because I’ve been on the other side having my medal selected and not selected, so I can really appreciate the importance of doing a good job of it. I am really studying the games and making my own design because that helps me think in the same way as a designer. I think that way I can appreciate other ideas. It’s a huge honour and I’m excited to be part of it again.
What are you hoping to see from the 2023 contestants?
I’m hoping to see how they show the values of the Olympic Games and how they represent these games which are in Gangwon, a district on the border of North and South Korea. The slogan is ‘grow together, shine forever’. The first part represents peace, harmony, and coexistence, the second signifies the objectives of the games to pursue a long-term legacy. So, I would like to see medals that symbolise the slogan and also share the vision of the games, which is celebrating peaceful coexistence through sport.
You have a documentary short film in the festival circuit, can you tell me a bit about your film and your vision?
I believe that sport and art require similar things, like a strong detail for excellence, discipline, and dedication. I wanted to share my story and a bit more about my performance. I wanted to show the joint synergy of art and sport, how they help each other, and how you don't have to choose between them. I think it’s a very cool and unique story, and I was honoured with the medal design, which I thought was one of the best in the competition. There are things that I cannot control, like the variable of winning – at the end of the day I can only put my best foot forward. If someone in the meeting room wasn’t supportive of my performance, it could never have happened. I thought it was a privilege to both design the medal and perform at the games.
You have already won lots of accolades for the film – it must feel amazing getting all that positive feedback.
We are so happy with how it’s done so far. This project has been about three years in the making, so to finally have it in festivals and have all the hard work pay off is an amazing feeling. It has also been quite a challenge because it’s been my first film, so it’s been a learning curve. But I had an amazing team from Wellington, someone from South Africa who did music, a cinematographer from India, and a producer from America who mentored me throughout the project. It takes an army to make a film, I’ve learned.
Our film is in the South Pacific Film Festival coming up in New Zealand. It’s going to be screened twice: once in Ruby Bay on the 25th of March and once on the 1st of April in Motueka.
Do you still feel quite drawn to your New Zealand roots in your practice?
Absolutely. Throughout my upbringing I lived in many countries around the world, so it was only when I came back to study that I connected with my roots as a New Zealander again. One of the things that I learned coming back – because in a way I was a foreigner going back into my home country – is New Zealand has a very good sense of community. I think it’s an important part of our culture and something I try to involve in my practice. Even if it’s not community driven, at least it benefits it or is a positive impact. I think the exciting thing about art is sharing it with communities and I think art is a powerful tool to uplift them.
You have some major achievements under your belt, what are you working on at the moment and where do you see yourself going next?
I’m working on this film still because, as I’ve learned, there is lots of producing that happens after you make it. I’m doing some paintings too. In the future I see myself creating more great art that has a positive impact in the world and trying to learn as an artist, designer, and filmmaker. Keep developing my craft to see how far I can go.