Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing is the most comprehensive exhibition to date of work by British artist Hew Locke and involves a wide range of media: painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and installation. Locke explores the languages of colonial and postcolonial power and the symbols through which different cultures assume and assert identity. Activating his awareness of colonial impact, Locke modifies historical source material and artifacts to focus attention on the United Kingdom, its monarchy, and his (then newly independent) childhood home of Guyana in South America.
By appropriating images of coats of arms and trophies, weaponry, naval warships, public statuary, and the costumes and regalia of state, Locke critiques governmental authority, its iconographies, and legacies. His Souvenir series of royal busts, including Souvenir 1 (Queen Victoria) (2018), is presented alongside reworkings of antique share certificates, obsolete documents referring to the exploitative nature, and turbulent history of colonial economies.
Images of ships and boats—important forms with countless possible meanings throughout the exhibition—evoke centuries of warfare, trade, and strategies of cultural imperialism, as well as personal significance for the artist:
Here’s the thing: Guyana means ‘land of many waters’—you are constantly aware of boats. I went to Guyana as a five-year-old kid on a boat. I came back here [the UK] on a boat. So many things, good and bad, travel by sea. People want simple answers about what this work is about, but it doesn’t exist. Migration, trade, refugees, warfare, exploration, tourism … [are] extremely messy and interlinked. To whoever is asking, I say, come back tomorrow and I’ll have something different to say about it.
Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing is organized by Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri; and Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Ikon Gallery, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and Colby College Museum of Art.
Barbara and Peter Gattermeir