Hew Locke: The Procession at Tate Britain
Featuring almost 150 life-sized handmade figures placed along the length of Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries, The Procession is the ambitious new installation by artist Hew Locke. Inspired by the Caribbean carnival parades, the characters are colourfully dressed and, at first sight, appear to form a celebratory scene. On closer inspection, one can see that some of them are adorned with objects and imagery associated with violence and death. Their march then assumes a darker undertone that is still tightly blended with the attractiveness of their costumes, which epitomises Locke’s interest in letting contrasting elements coexist.
What is most intriguing about the project is the level of detail on each figure. As well as being richly decorated visually, Locke’s characters are also laden with symbolism and sociopolitical references that serve to raise major global issues, such as the climate emergency, the Black Lives Matter movement, slavery and even the recent invasion of Ukraine. Although the characters are very different from one another, they happen to be in the same space at the same time and, in spite of the heaviness of their cultural luggage, they all head towards the future, moving en masse in the same direction.
The artist refers to this installation as an “extended poem” and it’s his way of embracing culture and history in all their contradictions. It brings together several cultural elements that Locke has been exploring throughout his career, and the sheer scale of the parade acts as a loudspeaker for these themes. While the project works superbly as a visually engaging manifesto, perhaps the missing ingredient is a strong emotional impact, especially considering the size of the installation and the topics it deals with. Nevertheless, The Procession is a fascinating work to be explored through close inspection, as each detail tells a story.
Hew Locke: The Procession is at Tate Britain from 23rd March until 22nd January 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.