‘The Procession‘ is a new piece of work commissioned this year by the Tate, for the wonderful neo-classical Duveen Galleries forming the central spine of Tate Britain. Hew Locke follows fellow artists such as Anthea Hamilton(2018), Cerith Wyn Evans (2017), Phyllida Barlow (2014), Fiona Banner (2010), Martin Creed (2008), Mark Wallinger (2007) and Mona Hatoum (2000).
Locke’s work is layered with many allusions and reference points but first impressions are of a riot of colour and exuberance, followed by a slightly unsettled and sinister feeling as you look deeper.
‘The piece of work has a life of its own and how it is perceived over time will change and evolve, and that is how it should be.’ Hew Locke
Consisting of 150 life sized figures, the work touches on many topics, referencing subjects such as the Carnival (in Indian and Indo-Carribean culture), port-colonial trade, the ghosts of slavery, environmental disasters, monuments to empire, revolution and emancipation. You can read more about these subjects in depth in the wonderful exhibition guide. Ideas of nationhood are examined – how nations are formed and what symbols are choosen to represent them, which feeds into the ideas of nationhood and who becomes the heroic figures of the nation. The refugee crisis and escaping conflict is also referenced, extremely pertinent to the world we live in today with war zones from the Ukraine to Syria, and Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in waves of desperate people trying to escape the hell on earth their homes have become.
This all seems particularly relevant to British society today as the Black Lives Matter movement (amongst others) forces us to confront our colonial past and wrestle with the consequences of Empire. In 2006 Locke used the infamous statue of Edward Colston in Bristol as part of ‘Restoration‘ (a combination of statues and photography)
‘(Colston) is adorned with corrie shells and other trade beads, surrounded by a dark web formed by the branches of the tree. Whilst Colston’s paternalism might have brought good to the city of Bristol, we are made aware of his, and many of his contemporaries involvement in the uncomfortable truths of corruption and the enslavement of many African people.’ Spike Island
Locke’s piece examines how our shared history effects the society we live in today, with a complicated, messy kind of beauty enticing the viewer to look more closely, examining the little pieces of evidence that are ‘woven’ into each figure.
‘I’m trying to tackle some really big wide subjects over centuries and and how things affect us today, but it’s talking about the echoes of history, basically. What I’m trying to do is make something attractive to draw people in and then start to question what are the imagery is all about. It is highly detailed and that is deliberate it so it will give reward too longer viewing.’ Hew Locke
‘The Procession’ is at the Deveen Galleries, Tate Britain, to experience for free, until January the 23rd 2023, and you can watch a fascinating interview with the artist here.
Images and text © Jonathan Dredge