by Dilpreet BhullarDec 20, 2022
British artist Hew Locke is presenting The Procession, a commission by Tate Britain for their annual invite to Duveen Galleries. The large-format installation by Locke will continue to be on view until January 22, 2023. Locke is a British-Guyanese sculptor and contemporary visual artist who currently works and lives in Brixton, London. He explores ideas of colonialism, its rippling effects and post-colonial global power structures through the lens of having lived in Guyana and Britain. As a result of the South American cultural influence, the visual experience of Locke’s work is vibrant, dizzyingly colourful and dynamic. The walkthrough installation includes 140 life-size human figures, as well as five horses. Eleanor Crippa, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate Britain, spoke with STIR about the process of curating Locke’s colossal new body of work.
Mentioning what she finds intriguing about Locke's particular practice, Crippa says, "Hew Locke is a visionary artist who already had experience working on site-specific projects. For the past 30 years, he has produced incredibly engaging and visually stunning work while also dealing with some of the most complex issues that define our past and present time. Locke always had a deep interest and understanding of the history and qualities of architecture and has proved to enjoy responding to specific settings and their histories." Locke’s repertoire exudes an elegant ability to toe the delicate line between intricately woven storytelling and visual splendour, compromising the relevance of neither.
Crippa goes on to say, "His work is meticulously made in a way that never hides, but exposes the underpinning processes of free association and assemblage. Hence, it is exceptionally generous for viewers, who can engage with its materiality and enjoy its intrinsic sense of becoming. We had no doubt he would have engaged fully in the project and the specificities of the dauntingly large and imposing Duveen Gallery at Tate Britain to produce his most ambitious work to date." The Procession is an exquisite, hand-crafted installation within which a viewer might place themselves, and also walk around. The sculptural works are emotionally evocative, with expressive faces turned toward you, they guide the energy through the space.
Crippa tells us, "For this project, Hew challenged himself to defy expectations, creating for the first time life-size figures, incredibly complex and otherworldly and yet convincing as a gathering of being – human or superhuman. Nonetheless, in The Procession, Hew references many of his previous works and images and objects that have continued to fascinate and haunt him." The Procession is a commentary on migration, slavery, industrialisation and historical socio-political divisiveness, and even directly references the history of the Tate itself. Founder Henry Tate was a renowned lover of art, and also a sugar industrialist, post-slavery. Locke weaves in threads of the history of slave-run sugar business, addressing his Guyanese heritage, and the residual evidence of violent, global financial colonial control he has witnessed.
Locke uses vivid and electrifying fabrics, in combinations that are seemingly random, yet visually cohesive. Crippa tells us more about the artist’s use of fabric as medium saying, "The use of textile is a recent development in Hew's work. Like cardboard, textile is a relatively cheap and ubiquitous material. Textile has enabled him to further explore the possibilities of colour. Crucially, textile is very versatile. Depending on the material, it has widely different tactile and visual properties. It can be recycled, repurposed, cut up, and stitched back together in new configurations, mixing new and second-hand fabrics. Textile was also fundamental as a support on which the artist printed and juxtaposed all sorts of images. All those elements come together in a dazzling visual collage that speaks to the cycles of history. It addresses the movement of materials through all sorts of forms of exchanges, plundering and kleptocracy. Particularly striking are images relating to the history of imperialism, colonialism and post-colonialism". Here, Crippa underscores the political nature of textile itself, and the many tales and anecdotes it can tell.
Crippa worked closely with the artist, as well as freelance curator Indra Khanna to enable the fabrication of the work and its transition and staging in the galleries. Crippa says, “As Hew said, The Procession is a poem of sorts, bringing together many histories, ideas and images in multiple associations. In the way we wrote and discussed the work, we were mindful of resisting simplistic and narrow interpretations. Instead, we tried to remain faithful to the openness of the work, which, while adopting specific references, allows visitors to take up different and personal journeys in the way they experience and interpret it."
Tate is also showcasing a collection work by Hew Locke, Armada (2019), which is on display at Tate Liverpool until June 2023.