Here’s the Thing is the most comprehensive exhibition to date of work by the artist Hew Locke. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1959, but raised in Guyana—a British colony until 1970—Locke often sailed between the UK and South America during his childhood. Across a wide range of media, he considers the maritime vectors of mercantilism, colonialism, post-colonialism, migration, and diaspora. Within his nautical imaginary, Locke reconfigures iconographies of nationhood, and in particular, the military. The art historian Kobena Mercer has described him as “hollowing out the iconography of sovereignty that has become so all pervasive that its figurative codes are overlooked.”
Locke was interrogating public statuary well in advance of the recent high-profile debates about such monuments. A modified antique bust of Queen Victoria appears to wilt beneath a headdress and breastplate constructed from carnivalesque beads, imperial crests, and all manner of other embellishment. The artist frequently employs commonplace plastic novelties, drawing attention to the ways that these materials circulate globally and function as symbols of cultural exoticism. His overpainted share certificates (documents certifying stock ownership) offer insight into the historic movement of investment capital, magnifying the power dynamics and emblematic flourishes at play within these financial transactions. Armada, an impressive flotilla of suspended boats, poignantly evokes the universality of sea travel. By his own account, Locke is “making global links between people on the sea,” and his artwork is as historically freighted as it is contemporaneously charged.
Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing originated at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK. Before opening here, it goes on view at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, from September 12, 2019, through January 5, 2020. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Ikon Gallery, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Colby College Museum of Art.