Hew Locke: The Procession
Tate Britain unveils The Procession, a major new installation by artist Hew Locke, the latest in the gallery’s ongoing series of annual commissions. Locke has taken over Tate Britain’s monumental Duveen Galleries with almost 150 life-sized figures – staging a powerful, unsettling and fantastical procession. Intricately hand-made, and bold in its use of colour, this extraordinary installation assembles a myriad of images and materials. It is Locke’s most ambitious project to date, bringing together themes he has explored throughout his career.
People of all ages travel from one end of the galleries to the other, through geography, time and culture. It evokes many kinds of procession: from celebratory to sorrowful, practical and ceremonial, to forced and voluntary. The Procession aims to spark ideas of pilgrimage, migration, trade, carnival, protest, social celebrations or our own individual journey through life. Visitors to Tate Britain walk alongside Locke‘s travellers, exploring the many layers of meaning, culture and history in his work.
Many of the participants in The Procession are an assemblage or collage of symbolic objects and imagery, such as militaria, Caribbean carnival characters, momento mori, floods, or obsolete share certificates. It is unclear whether some are wearing masks, or if these are their true faces. As the artist describes: ‘What I try to do in my work is mix ideas of attraction and ideas of discomfort – colourful and attractive, but strangely, scarily surreal at the same time.’
Locke’s installation highlights historical connections across time, and takes as its starting point the architecture and history of the gallery itself, and its founding benefactor sugar refining magnate Henry Tate. The Procession also moves through the centuries to address urgent contemporary concerns, including the climate emergency, Black Lives Matter and the invasion of Ukraine. The figures carry historical and cultural baggage with them on their journey. Costumes and flags bear images of decaying Guyanese architecture, evidence of rising sea levels, cargo and sail boats, tropical prints, slave ships as well as Caribbean cliches. Whatever the past, Locke’s people, whether on foot, horseback or carried, are assuredly moving forward into the future.