Growing up in Guyana, Hew Locke remembers images of Queen Elizabeth II on his school exercise book covers remaining long after the country’s Independence. As children, he and his friends would get into trouble for defacing the symbols of the monarchy by playfully giving her spectacles or a moustache. More seriously, Locke’s current work challenges the dearth of more complex images of the royal family and instead creates images with a very different truth as art. Elizabeth II is somebody who for Locke, holds 60 years worth of political secrets in her head; declaring that he wouldn't wish to know all the things she knows. In this video work, Sovereign State, Locke has shown her mouth bound; to hold everything in. Sounds of whispers hover in the air as the images of the Queen transform slowly from one to the other. Edvard Munch’s famous 1893 painting The Scream is a significant influence, as are Tudor portraits of Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. These include The Rainbow Portrait in which she wears a dress covered in eyes and ears as the all-seeing ruler, and The Ditchley Portrait, where she stands upright on a map of England; storms raging behind her while the sun shines before her. Locke’s contemporary take on the monarchy references medieval and renaissance imagery of the ruling elite, who were often portrayed with skulls or skeletons as a reminder that “in the midst of life we are in death” and thus change is always inevitable.
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