Major New Hew Locke Art Installation Opens At Rivington Place

By Helen Kane | 02 September 2008
A collage of toy guns, plastic flowers and beads

Cheap components create a wealth of imagery as toy machine guns sit alongside bicycle bungees and plastic flowers in Hew Locke's playful parody at Rivington Place. Copyright the artist.

Iniva, the contemporary arts organisation dedicated to the work of artists from culturally diverse backgrounds, based at Rivington Place in Hackney, have commissioned a powerful new installation from British artist Hew Locke to coincide with their first anniversary at the Shoreditch venue.

Kingdom of the Blind explores and challenges the constructs and flamboyant visual language of power in a fictional collection of possessions of an imaginary ruler.

A carnivalesque frieze of monumental figures up to 4.2 metres (14 feet) tall is combined with an elaborate backdrop of wall drawings recalling the iconography of great historic battles such as the Battle of San Romano, the Bayeux Tapestry and the British Museum’s Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs.

The fictional leader’s rise to power is depicted in figures which, as well as illustrating victorious moments in battle, also act as elaborate votive objects – composed of a stunning and ironic medley of fake leather handbags, miniature plastic animals, doll parts, sequins, fake fur, cheap chains and plastic guns.

A collage of a leopard's head and costume jewellery

For the last ten years Locke's work has explored the visual display of those in and aspiring to power. Copyright the artist

For the past ten years, Locke’s work has focused on the visual display of those in and aspiring to power. Often working on an immense scale, his monumental wall drawings and figurative sculptures parody and subvert the visual reinforcements of authority, mocking power’s manipulation of high art with their respective components of pound shop ephemera, recycled bric-a-brac and gloriously ersatz bling.

Presented ostensibly as a museum display, the resulting chaotic and flamboyant commemoration of individual power becomes a poignant parody of today’s social and political global climate, as the iconography and language of royalty and government is subverted to question our received notions of power and cultural identity.

Having grown up in Edinburgh before moving to the newly independent Guyana at the age of seven, and later moving back to London in the 1980s, Locke's personal history has always fed into his ongoing interest in the links between personal and national identity.

His allusions to the language of contemporary dictatorships and war assume a powerful commentary of our national cultural institutions and their relationship to the modern constructs of history and society, cultural identity and national pride.

Commenting on his practice, Locke said: “At its heart, my work is both political and highly personal, often taking me on strange dreamlike journeys where the past and the present merge and then separate.”

A collage of doll parts, chains, leather bags and toy guns.

Intricate combinations of fake leather handbags, doll parts, chains and fake weaponry characterise Locke's elaborate votive constructions. Copyright the artist.

Locke has exhibited extensively within the UK, including Tate Britain, as part of British Art Show 6, V & A Museum, The New Art Gallery Walsall, The Bluecoat Gallery and The British Museum. His work was featured in Alien Nation, a touring exhibition co-produced by Iniva and the ICA.

Sebastian Lopez, Director, Iniva said: “Hew Locke’s first ever “museum display” at Rivington Place will bring a new perspective to his work and creativity. Locke is an immensely talented artist whose work becomes more and more relevant to international politics and the way in which images of power are constructed.”

From their base at Rivington Place - the UK’s first permanent public space dedicated to culturally diverse visual arts and photography - Iniva invite artists and audiences to question assumptions about contemporary art and ideas, acting as a catalyst for making these debates and artworks part of mainstream culture.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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