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Using this resource

This resource can be used for individual study and reflection or as a reference for teachers developing lesson plans. 

It introduces the artist's work and offers discussion points and activities that can be used together or as individual components to integrate into your own scheme of work.

Who is Hew Locke?

Key themes: autobiography, statues and Empire, boats and migration

Artwork in focus: Foreign Exchange

Artwork in focus: The Procession

Artwork in Focus: The Jurors

Art & Design activity suggestions

Who is Hew Locke?

'If I wasn't an artist, I would be a historian.' – Hew Locke

Hew Locke is a contemporary British artist whose mixed-media work addresses colonial histories and themes of nationhood and empire. As well as examining the past, he explores how historical events still resonate today.

Foreign Exchange

Foreign Exchange (temporary installation) 2022

Hew Locke (b.1959)

Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, West Midlands

Hew Locke was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1959. His father, Donald Locke, was a Guyanese sculptor and his mother, Leila Locke, was a British painter.

In 1966, Locke's family moved to Guyana and Locke lived there for much of his childhood and teenage years. He returned to the UK in 1980 to study Fine Art at Falmouth University and later went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London, graduating with an MA in sculpture in 1994. He now lives in Brixton in South London.

In 2022, Locke became a member of the Royal Society of Artists, and in 2023 was awarded an OBE for his services to British art.

Hew Locke

Hew Locke

Key themes

Autobiography and memories

Hew Locke has said that autobiography is an important inspiration in his work. His memories of childhood have helped to create the visual language he uses and underpins the themes he explores.

Colonialism, Empire – and statues

'The legacy of empire is all around us on a daily basis – not just the variety of ethnic backgrounds that we have living in the UK, but the buildings and public statues that you see in cities across the country that came into being out of the economy of empire.'– Hew Locke, from an interview with Simon Grant

Guyana had been a British colony since the early nineteenth century. When Hew Locke arrived there at the age of five, the legacy of the British Empire was all around, including in the statues.

He remembers seeing a statue of Queen Victoria, that he used to pass on his way to school in Georgetown, being removed from outside the front of the Guyana law courts and discarded.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Hew Locke (@hewdjlocke)

This association of statues with power and Empire is something Locke returns to again and again in his work. He sees statues as a symbol of nationhood. They represent national heroes and reflect how a nation chooses to be seen and what they hold up as their history or heritage.

For Locke, the statues also raise questions about who gets a statue and who doesn't – and who decides.

About 'Souvenir 9 (Queen Victoria)'

Souvenir 9 (Queen Victoria) consists of an antique portrait bust of Queen Victoria that Hew Locke bought second-hand and then embellished with layers of jewellery, lace, trinkets, and other materials.

Busts like this, of members of the royal family, were made in the nineteenth century from Parian ware, which is a type of pottery that looks like marble. The busts were bought as souvenirs to be displayed in the homes of middle-class people (who wouldn't have been able to afford more expensive marble busts).

Queen Victoria (1819–1901)

Queen Victoria (1819–1901) c.1897

Robinson & Leadbeater (replica by) and Rowland James Morris (1841–1898)

Jersey Heritage

At first glance, the richly decorated portrait looks lush and seductive and draws us in. But when we look closely, we see that some of the details and materials are surprising. 

Souvenir 9 (Queen Victoria)

Souvenir 9 (Queen Victoria) 2019

Hew Locke (b.1959)

Birmingham Museums Trust

Alongside the jewellery and lace are a bicycle tyre, hessian rope, chains, coins and medals. A medal from the fourth Anglo-Ashanti war (1895–1896), is attached to the headdress and hangs in the centre of Victoria's forehead. This war was one of a series of conflicts between the British and the Ashanti people in Africa, which ended in the annexing of the Ashanti Empire as part of the British Empire in 1900. The sculpture's headdress also carries an image of one of the ivory masks looted following the destruction of Benin City by the British in 1897.

By adding these objects, Locke makes clear the links between violence, war and the British Empire under Queen Victoria. The objects and materials adorn and decorate the statue but they also weigh it down. As Hew Locke says on his website:

'They are weighed down by the literal burden of history and this goes back to my idea of how a nation creates itself, what stories it sells to itself and how this relates to ideas of Britain and its history that are weighing down the minds of people today...'

Boats and journeys

'Boats are a metaphor for life' – Hew Locke, Tate interview, 'Let's make something positive'

In 1959, at the age of 5, Hew Locke travelled with his family from Edinburgh to Guyana by boat. The journey made a lasting impression on Locke, and boats have been featured in his sculptures and installations. The name 'Guyana' means 'land of many waters' and most journeys through the country involve a boat trip – so as Locke has commented, boats are part of who he is.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Hew Locke (@hewdjlocke)

In an interview with Tate, Hew Locke said:

'For years after leaving [Guyana], I would make a boat annually as a kind of security blanket and that expanded to become a major part of my practice.'

About 'Armada'

Armada is a haunting installation of 45 battered-looking model boats that appear as if they have sailed through many storms. The boats, collected and adapted by Locke or made from scratch, represent different vessels from around the world and from different historical periods. Elaborate historical galleons hang next to modern cargo ships, fishing boats and homemade rafts.

In the video, Hew Locke said that votive boats inspired the artwork. Votive boats are model boats that were made by seamen or shipbuilders and given to churches to commemorate loved ones killed at sea or to celebrate a safe return from a voyage. The boats are also a symbol reflecting the role of the church as a refuge from life's storms.

Some of the boats in Armada are decorated with plastic flowers and cheap plastic toys. Others have historic jewels, charms, or military badges from colonial campaigns attached to them. Bronze cut-out figures, inspired by depictions of Portuguese mercenaries from Benin sculptures, decorate the sides of some of the boats. There are also coins from around the world which make us think of international trade and migration.

Locke sees the symbolism of boats as reflecting many possible themes.

'Some are containers for people who are trying to get to a new life. Others are containers for the journey from life into death. Others have colonial references – to conquistadors chasing gold – others have references to the Mediterranean refugee crisis.'

You might notice that none of the boats have people travelling in them. Locke has left them empty as he wants to leave their journeys open to our imagination:

'The people on the boats are you or me – our minds go into the boats and we imagine a journey we might take on them …'

Artwork in focus: 'Foreign Exchange'

Foreign Exchange was a temporary installation commissioned for the Birmingham 2022 Festival and Commonwealth Games.

Foreign Exchange

Foreign Exchange (temporary installation) 2022

Hew Locke (b.1959)

Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, West Midlands

Locke designed his installation around an existing statue of Queen Victoria that stands in Victoria Square in Birmingham city centre. This becomes an integral part of the installation and is shown standing in a boat surrounded by smaller replicas.

Queen Victoria (1819–1901)

Queen Victoria (1819–1901) 1901 & recast 1951

Thomas Brock (1847–1922) and William James Bloye (1890–1975)

Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, West Midlands

Analyse the artwork

Use the following questions as discussion prompts or for self-reflection. Then find out more in the 'About the artwork' section below.

Visit the artwork page to see more images of the installation.

First impressions …

  • What can you see?
  • What do the boat and statues make you think of?
  • Where is the installation located? How is this important to how the work is seen?

Look closer at the statues …

  • What is the impact of repeating the original statue?
  • Which direction do the statues face and do you think this is significant?
  • How has Hew Locke altered the statues? What has he added to them and why do you think he has done this?

Media and techniques …

  • How has Hew Locke incorporated the original statue into the installation?
  • How did Locke and the fabrication team at Pangolin plan and create the artwork?
  • What media and techniques have they used?
  • Do you think the fact that the installation is temporary, informed decisions on the choice of material used for Foreign Exchange?

Message and meaning …

  • What is the message or meaning of the artwork?
  • How do its themes fit in with what you know about Locke’s work?
  • Does knowing that Locke made his installation around an existing statue affect how you see it?

Public sculptures and histories …

  • Foreign Exchange caused some controversy when it was installed, why do you think this may have been?
  • How do Locke’s changes to the original statue of Queen Victoria affect how you see her and the history that she represents?

Artwork in focus: 'The Procession'

'I think of The Procession as a kind of epic poem. It's a bit like a national collective unconscious. It becomes part of who we are.' – Hew Locke

The Procession is an installation of 150 life-sized figures including men, women, children – and horses. Each figure is handmade by Locke and his team of assistants, from a patchwork of materials and objects. Together the figures and the objects they hold reflect themes of empire, journeying, and migration.

The Procession was made in 2021 for The Duveen Galleries in Tate Britain, an imposing 90-metre-long space at the heart of the building.

Analyse, reflect on or discuss

Use the questions below to analyse and reflect on the artwork. Then find out more in the 'About the artwork' section below.

First impressions …

  • What are your first impressions of The Procession? It may help to think of words to describe it.
  • Does the installation remind you of anything?
  • How does the installation make you think and feel?

Look closer at the installation …

  • Can you see any individual sculptures or imagery that help to provide clues about themes in the work?
  • How are the figures dressed and what are they holding?
  • Who do you think the figures represent?

Media and techniques …

  • What materials and techniques has Hew Locke used to create the installation?
  • What overall effect does the mix of materials convey?

Message and meaning …

  • What do you think is the message or meaning of the artwork?
  • How do its themes fit in with what you know about Locke's work?
  • Do you think the historical themes that Locke explores in artworks such as The Procession are relevant to us today?

Artwork in focus: 'The Jurors'

The Jurors was produced in 2015 to mark 800 years since Magna Carta was issued by King John of England on a field at Runnymede in Surrey.

The clauses included in Magna Carta provided the basis for English law, developed between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. 

The Jurors

The Jurors 2014–2015

Hew Locke (b.1959) and Meltdown Studio

Windsor Road, Runnymede, Surrey

Locke decided to use Clause 39 of Magna Carta as the inspiration for his sculpture. This is one of only three clauses from the charter that remain part of English and Welsh law today. It enshrines the right to trial by jury – stating that no man can be imprisoned 'except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land'.

Discover more about Magna Carta and watch an introduction to The Jurors in these National Trust videos:

Then watch Hew Locke discussing The Jurors and how he set about creating it in the video below.

Explore and analyse the artwork

Use these questions to reflect on or discuss The Jurors.

Then explore the 'About the artwork' section below to find out more about it.

First impressions …

  • What can you see? What does the artwork consist of?
  • What does the artwork make you think and feel?

Inspiration …

  • Why is Magna Carta important? Why should it be remembered and celebrated?
  • Why do you think Locke chose Clause 39 as his inspiration?
  • Why is the location of the artwork important and how did it influence Locke's vision for the sculpture?

Look closer …

  • How do the images and symbols that Locke used on the chairs relate to Clause 39?
  • Why do you think Locke chose images that relate to events and people around the world, not just in Britain?

Techniques, media and process …

  • How did Locke create the relief panels for his chairs?
  • What part did the foundry play in creating the artwork and how did Locke collaborate with them in developing the final sculpture?
  • Why do you think he chose bronze as his medium?

The viewer and public interaction …

  • Why is it important to Locke that the public interacts with the sculpture?

Art and Design activity suggestions

Commemorate a historical event or person in art - and make it resonate with a contemporary audience

Magna Carta is over 800 years old. But with The Jurors, Locke created a sculpture that brings it up to date, referencing contemporary figures and events alongside historical ones. 

Design a sculpture or installation that commemorates or celebrates a historical event and makes it relevant and accessible to us today.

Your audience

  • Think about who your audience is.
  • How you can make it relevant to them?
  • What message would you like people to take away from looking at your sculpture or installation?
  • Think about ways the public could interact with it.

Your location

  • Propose a location for your artwork.
  • This could be somewhere that is relevant to the event or person you are commemorating, a place location where lots of people will see it, or a site-specific location where you feel your artwork will work visually.
  • How can you ensure your design 'fits' the location and is sympathetic to it?

Your design

  • Create sketches and a maquette for your artwork. (A maquette is a small model showing what the sculpture will look like.)
  • You could also produce a 'mock-up' of your artwork in its location. Collage an image of your sculpture design onto a photograph of your proposed location using photo editing tools.

Be inspired by more sculptures that remember, on Art UK:

Adapt an object or sculpture

Hew Locke often uses mixed media to create his artworks.

He combines objects that he has bought or collected. Or he alters and adapts found objects with elements he has made. (Found objects are manufactured functional objects or objects from nature that artists make into artworks.)

Kingdom of the Blind

Kingdom of the Blind 2008

Hew Locke (b.1959)

Sheffield Museums

Find out more about how artists use found objects in this Curation: Explore the Curation, 'Found objects in art'

Then use a found object as a starting point and adapt it to create a sculpture. 

  • This could be anything from a toy or ornament to an old piece of machinery. (Visit a few charity or second-hand shops to see what you can find!)
  • Think about what your artwork will be about – or what you want your message to be.
  • Add other found objects to it, paint or draw on it, or add made elements from fabric or cardboard to change the appearance of the object

Be inspired by more sculptures on Art UK that used found objects and mixed media.

Create an expressive artwork in response to The Procession

The Procession is a powerful installation. It is visually stimulating and exciting with a rich layering of textures, colours and materials. Looking at the artwork might also inspire different responses and emotions – from sadness to exhilaration.

Collect and save to your desktop, images of The Procession and re-watch the Tate video about The Procession.

Then create an experimental drawing, painting or collage that responds to the artwork. 

Fog is an Urban Experience

Fog is an Urban Experience c.2007

Will Alsop (1947–2018)

Royal Academy of Arts

  • Use textural marks or scraps of collage materials and colours that reflect the colours and textures you can see.
  • Experiment with gestural marks to reflect your feelings and emotions in response to the artwork.
  • You could also add elements of the imagery or symbolism you can see in The Procession to your drawing.
  • Layer mark-making and imagery to capture the mood and atmosphere of the installation.

You may find this experimental drawing resource useful.

Be inspired by artworks on Art UK that use gestural mark-making, colour and abstracted figures to express feelings and emotions.

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