Hew Locke: The Ambassadors at The LowryMaja Lorkowska, Exhibitions Editor
The Lowry is proudly presenting a brand new exhibition from acclaimed Guyanese-British sculptor Hew Locke. The Ambassadors, originally commissioned in 2019, has arrived in Salford a few years late due to the pandemic, but the resulting display is more than worth the wait.
The Ambassadors consists of four Black figures on horseback, acting as messengers from the past to the future. Elevated high above the viewers, the figures carry a statuesque aura of grandeur and power. Each one is intricately adorned with symbolic elements such as colonial medals, slave pennies, Benin bronzes and portraits of Toussaint Louverture. Textile elements are combined with metal, colours range from shiny golds and shades of grey to acid greens.
Their ornamental aesthetic is typical of Locke’s maximalist oeuvre. His fascination with details, material tactility and the ways in which different materials can interact, all drive the visual aspect of his work. Conceptually, the artist is interested in themes of the state, ceremony, royalty, legacy of the empire and the symbols of nationhood. His work questions the dominant historical narratives along with their bearing on society today.
Having spent his formative years in Guyana, Locke continues to regularly return to his home country in order to maintain a sense of connection to his roots and heritage. This also informs his ornate visual style, which can seem chaotic in some ways and incredibly considered in others with the components piled on in complex layers, yet each one is carefully chosen. Locke’s aim is to retain the viewer’s interest for long enough that they start to speculate about their meaning and connections, forming new narratives and possible interpretations.
There are also other elements to the exhibition: the figures are shown alongside a bespoke wallpaper, created using the imagery from Locke’s ongoing Share series, as well as three new original pieces. These original antique documents are painted over, obscured and embellished by the artist, bringing their historical records of the movement of money and power into the present day.
Adjacent to The Ambassadors installation audiences will find a space made to act as an artist’s studio. This is the interactive part of the show where you will be able to take part in self-led activities using the provided materials and guidance on how to make your own mini monument, medals and coins – all to be displayed in the gallery space.
Despite the delay since the initial commission, The Ambassadors actually comes at a pertinent time when discussions about statues as public symbols of power, and the decisions about who we choose to commemorate and celebrate, have slipped away from the public eye and mainstream media. Questions surrounding post-colonial power, state and royal figures still stand and Locke’s installation is a striking way to carry on the conversation.