P·P·O·W is pleased to present Listening to the Land, Hew Locke’s second solo exhibition with the gallery. Locke is known for exploring the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, and the symbols through which different cultures assume and assert identity. Furthering the themes explored in his celebrated commission The Procession at Tate Britain, and his concurrent installation Gilt on the façade of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this exhibit engages with contemporary and historical inequities while reflecting on the landscape and history of the Caribbean. The exhibition draws its title from a poem by Guyanese political activist and poet Martin Carter which situates itself between two opposing forces of the landscape – sea and forest. Locke’s show features new sculptures and wall works with recurring motifs of stilt-houses, boats, memento mori, and share certificates referencing tensions between the land, the sea, and economic power. Reflecting on these links, Locke notes, “The land was created to generate money for colonial power, now the sea wants it back.”
Translating to ‘land of many waters,’ Guyana and its physical, economic, and political landscape serve as one of the primary sources for Locke’s work. Having spent his childhood in this newly independent nation, the artist witnessed first-hand an era of radical transformation. Now, the country teeters on the precipice of an oil boom and is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Juxtaposing personal meditations on the climate crisis with political commentary on the history of a globalized world, Locke contemplates the ways in which colonies were exploited to accumulate capital, and observes how Guyana’s economic future lies in the exploitation of its waters. Locke’s new boat sculptures The Relic and The Survivor embody this broad worldview as the two battered wrecks drift through time and history. Evoking the fragmented and diverse legacies of the global diaspora, the boats’ patchwork sails are interspersed with photo transfers of 19th Century cane cutters and banana boat loaders, while their decks are loaded with cargo that could allude to colonial plunder, trade goods or personal belongings.
Based on an abandoned plantation house, Locke’s newest sculpture Jumbie House 2 features layered images that unveil the spirits that haunt this colonial vestige. Presented alongside are a series of painted photographs of dilapidated vernacular architecture across Georgetown and rural Guyana. Constantly under threat of being washed away by storms or rising sea levels, these crumbling structures echo anxieties surrounding climate change and historical erasure. A new series of mixed media wall works, Raw Materials, is derived from antique share certificates and bonds. Locke richly decorates the appliques with acrylic, beads, and patchwork to draw attention to the complex ways in which the past shapes the present. The image of an 1898 Chinese Imperial Gold Loan behind painted Congolese figures connects the global economy at the height of Empire to current Sino-African trade networks. In another work, a painted representation of a Nigerian Ife mask, alongside an image of David Livingstone, is layered on a French-African Mortgage Bond from 1923, connecting exploration and exploitation of African land, to current conversations surrounding the repatriation of artifacts. Taken together, the works in Locke’s Listening to the Land echo William Faulker’s adage “The past is never dead. It's not even past.”
Hew Locke RA (b. 1959) received an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art in 1994. Locke’s work is in the permanent collections of the Tate, London, UK; the Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY; Pérez Art Museum, Miami, FL; and the British Museum, London, UK, among others. His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions including Here’s the Thing which opened at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK in 2019 before traveling to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO and the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME. In March 2022, Locke’s The Procession was the annual Tate Britain Duveen Commission. In the fall of 2022, Locke unveiled Gilt, the Façade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.