Un|Fixed Homeland, Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, 2016 Catalog: Un|Fixed Homeland - Page 58

Hew Locke b. United Kingdom 1959 At seven years old, London-based artist Hew Locke left the United Kingdom for Guyana and spent the next fourteen formative years there (1966 to 1980). Deeply instilled in his psyche are the colors, landscapes, structures, and symbols of day-to-day life in Guyana. It is from this vault that he incorporates into his work the signs and remnants of colonial and postcolonial power and interrogates how these artifacts are altered by, or stand the test of, the passage of time. The two C-type painted photographs, Rose Hall, 2014 and Mount Sinai, 2014, in which the artist blurs the line between photograph and painting with his employ of acrylic paint and ink, feature traditional plantation houses on stilts that pepper the Guyanese countryside. The works’ titles are named after real places in Guyana—Mount Sinai, an old plantation estate in New Amsterdam and Rose Hall, a small town in the East Berbice-Corentyne region. The original images were taken by Locke in 2013, during one of his many trips back to Guyana. Drawn to their inherent duality of beauty and decay, Locke states: “These houses are falling apart, and returning back to the earth from which they originally came as trees. They are like spirit houses … I am seeing my childhood falling down. Beautiful houses I dreamed of living in as a child are now wrecks.” Their physical signs of long neglect and disrepair are symbolic of something deeper than collapsing infrastructure. In tandem, Locke is interested in what lies beneath the wooden wreckage reclaimed by nature’s lush vegetation: a story of ghosts of a colonial past, economic depression, and abandonment as owners emigrate. For many living in Guyana, periods of intense floods are a constant reality. Completed by the Dutch in 1892, the 280-mile long seawall along the country’s Atlantic coastline was constructed to protect Guyana’s below sea level inlands from frequent threats of flooding. Using the flood as metaphor, Locke alters the original images, rendering these houses both physically and symbolically flooded. With this artistic gesture, the houses standing in water become mythical places and dreamlike memories, adding an allegorical resonance to the work. Locke notes the flooding is “also the flood of the mind, or memory, washing away the past,” suggesting water as a metaphor of transformation and change. What might be illuminated through Locke’s flooded interpretation is that floods create space for renewal, an opportunity to rebuild and to restore what was lost. To usher in the birth of a new nation. Sandra Brewster Place in Reflection, 2016 (Photo: Argenis Apolinario) 58 Hew Locke Mount Sinai, 2014 59