The Procession: An Epic Journey @ Tate Britain

The Procession – a monumental journey

“Wow” was my first reaction when I accidentally stumbled upon “The Procession” at the Tate Britain.

This visual extravaganza is a real showstopper with its colourful characters, dioramas and a deep dive into black history.

I’d actually come to see an entirely different exhibition but this carousel of characters had me hooked from the moment I caught sight of its sprawling ‘red carpet’ of figures.

Tour de Force

“The Procession” an instant attention-grabber, a work of jaw-dropping, vibrant glory populated by a cast of colourful, costumed mannequins.

Each has been crafted with huge attention to detail, with a giddying array of costumes, masks, banners and paraphernalia.

Artist and sculptor Hew Locke has created a visual tour de force which draws you into its fascinating story.

Lewis was born in Edinburgh but moved to Guyana (then British Guyana) with his family when he was five years old.

His reflections on the former British colony and life past, present and future form the centrepiece of “The Procession”.

There are echoes of Guyana’s colonial past, the slave trade, abolition and the colony’s independence from Britain.

There are strong hints of past exploitation counter balanced by positive celebrations of nationhood and identity. It’s a fascinating story when you start to decode it and unwrap its multiple meanings.

Black Lives on the Move

The scale of “The Procession” is truly epic – it’s almost overwhelming in terms of its size and ambition.

The figures march along, carrying the historical and cultural baggage of past times. There are references to violent colonial control and financial exploitation on the banners which the assembled figures brandish.

Artist Hew Locke says that, “The Procession is about certain universal concerns. I’m trying to tackle some really big, wide subjects over centuries and how they affect us today. It’s talking about the echoes of history basically.”

There is definitely a sense of a journey with each character representing a piece of this historic jigsaw puzzle.

We become observers and participants as we walk the 200 metre length of this impressive and detailed piece of artistic storytelling.

Who are the mysterious black widows who look like they are in mourning? Who is the masked man who resembles a “Day of the Dead” figure? And why is there a hidden figure wearing a tiger’s head?

These are all questions to ponder as you look at this intricate work which is packed with clues and details for the keenest of history detectives.

The mix of materials use to create and clothe the figures is astonishing. Locke is a real craftsman as well as an artist – and he’s employed techniques from painting, sculpture, fabric design and textiles.

Take a closer look and you’ll identify cardboard, rope, beads, applique needlework, and metals amongst the materials used to create the work. It is a dazzling experience…

Celebration of Heroes

This dynamic parade has a strong celebratory feel to it. Hew Locke says that he was keen to show national heroes, recasting the Guyanese people in a different light.

He wanted to reflect upon the idea that none of these people would have been the subject of a statue during colonial times.

This is a modern monument celebrating those same overlooked people… and representing them as national heroes.

Locke says that he wanted to make something attractive to draw people in so people would go “what’s that?”, and “what’s that mean?”.

We’re quickly drawn into questioning what the imagery is all about. It’s deliberately highly detailed so it will give reward to longer viewing.

“What I try to do in my work is mix ideas of attraction and ideas of discomfort – colourful and attractive,
but strangely, scarily surreal at the same time”.

Hew Locke – Artist

There are lots of little bits of evidence, hints and clues. “The piece can be read as a sort of puzzle which you can piece together. There’s beauty there but it’s a complicated, messy kind of beauty,” says the artist.

There are darker overtones too as “The Procession” addresses issues of conflict, death and mortality.

A decapitated head (or is it a death mask?) is carried inside a special case with a crumpled Union Jack on one side. The grim figures who carry it resemble pallbearers at a funeral for Guyana’s colonial past.

It also has a message of defiance and overtones of conflict and dark times but there is also light at the end of that tunnel.

“The Procession” is also about hopes for a brighter future, reflected in the strong colours – citric yellows, rich reds, bright oranges and vibrant greens. It’s a carnival of colour and optimism.

As artists Hew Locke says, “It’s about hope – we drown without it.

“It’s a positive movement of people – they’re moving into another life. They may be coming from difficult times, they may be heading through difficult times, but there’s an energy there which is about hope. The future. Let’s make something positive.”

Masked Parade

The interesting thing about “The Procession” is that it is being shown at the Tate, a building built on wealth from the slave trade and founded by the sugar magnate, Henry Tate.

Hats off to the Tate for being bold enough to showcase this art work against this backdrop.

The figures with their surreal masks come together to offer new meanings and sensations, stirring collective memories and sparking debate about the past and present.

This more than just a piece of art or sculpture… it is an epic creation which cuts across art forms.

A journey to see “The Procession” is well worth making, not least for its insights into a rotten, exploitative period of British history.

But it’s also a work of great beauty and power in its own right. It’s an impressive visual feast for the eyes and senses.

Join the journey of a lifetime…

“I think of The Procession as an epic poem. It’s a bit like a kind of national collective unconscious – it becomes part of who we are. What I’m trying to do is to create something which I personally find emotional and emotionally charged and emotionally moving.”

Hew Locke – Artist

Discover The Procession

“The Procession” is on display at The Tate Britain in London until 22 January, 2023. Admission is free.

The Tate Britain gallery is located at Millbank on the Thames. The nearest Tube station is Pimlico, a short walk away – or you can catch the 88 bus from Regent Street which will take you to the rear of The Tate via Westminster.

2 replies »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s