The UK artist Hew Locke will transform a sculpture of Queen Victoria in the centre of Birmingham, UK, realising a long-held ambition to work on an existing historic monument. Locke says in a post on Instagram that he will be “re-imagining [the] city centre sculpture… yes at last! They are letting me loose on an actual statue.” The project, known as Foreign Exchange, is organised by Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and forms part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival culture programme linked to the Commonwealth Games. Locke says work begins on the statue on 14 June.
Locke has focused on problematic statuary over the past two decades, producing photographs of contentious sculptures adorned in contemporary regalia. In 2017, he described his “statue-dressing” proposal, outlining his “impossible proposals” for decorating historic monuments. For an exhibition at PPOW gallery in New York in 2018, Locke re-imagined statues of Christopher Columbus and George Washington.
The marble figure of Queen Victoria that Locke will work on is by Sir Thomas Brock. It was unveiled in 1901 and then recast in bronze by William Bloye and members of Birmingham Art School in 1951. Locke’s vision is to create “an object of veneration, leading a battalion of other statues to represent the home nation throughout the Empire”, an Ikon statement says.
In 2017, Locke underscored at Frieze London the legacy of British and Irish colonialists including the slave trader Edward Colston, whose sculpture was torn down in Bristol in 2020, and the economist Edmund Burke. The latter embraced the economic opportunities of Empire, says Locke, whose large-scale photographs from the Restoration series (2006) show these contentious public monuments festooned in gold-plated chains and fake flowers.
The artist is also due to unveil the next Tate Britain commission in the Duveen Galleries later this month. “With an upbringing spanning the UK and Guyana, his work explores the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, questioning ideas of global cultural identities and how these representations are altered by the passage of time,” Tate says.
The Birmingham 2022 Festival also includes The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah at the Midland Arts Centre (7 May-26 June), marking the ten-year year anniversary of the artist’s portrait of the life and work of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall who led the Cultural Studies department at the University of Birmingham from 1964. Meanwhile, Blacklash: Racism and the Struggle for Self-Defence at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (from 28 April) includes photographs and videos by Mukhtar Dar, “the unofficial artist of the largest grassroots movement in the history of the UK’s South Asian communities”, a project statement says.