Hew Locke. Hemmed in Two, 2000. Cardboard, wood, acrylic, glue, and felt-tip pen. Approximately 15 x 22 feet. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Peter Norton. ©2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London
London-based artist Hew Locke grew up in Guyana during the period immediately after the country gained its independence from British colonial rule. This childhood experience provides a context that continues to influence his work. He is known for his large-scale installations, wall drawings, and sculptures that employ densely layered decorative objects and materials to address symbols of British royalty, colonial histories, and contemporary narratives relating to global migrations. Boats are a subject that have been used throughout his extensive career, and Hemmed in Two (2000), is an iconic example of his use of this subject and form.
This expansive installation work is comprised of hundreds of cardboard pieces that have been cut and painted with ornate details. These intricate patterns reference the wooden fretwork of Victorian-style fairgrounds, the plantation houses of colonial Guyana, and Islamic, Rajput, and baroque architectures. These sheets of cardboard create a form that recalls a heavy barge or riverboat—a ship that appears to be crushed under its own weight. Cardboard is a fragile, ephemeral material, one that often provides precarious, temporary shelter for the unhoused. It is also a universal packing material, and points to global markets and the movement of commercial goods. This reference to international trade is enhanced by the artist’s use of painted bar codes and the repeated word “EXPORT” seen throughout the installation. These references address how foreign cultural contexts and histories are often packaged and exoticized as commodities to be sold internationally.