Hew Locke, the Artist Who Dresses Up ‘Patriotic’ Statues to Reveal Their Whitewashed Histories

The artist turns Christopher Columbus, Peter Stuyvesant, and the doctor who experimented on female slaves into fetish figures burdened by their histories.

Hew Locke, Hamilton, Central Park,” 2018, c-type photograph with mixed media, 72 x 48 ins. Courtesy of P.P.O.W.

By Javier Pes | artnet News

It wasn’t Columbus Day for everyone in the US this week. Many eschewed the national holiday to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, choosing instead to honor the histories of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples around the world. Similarly, the artist Hew Locke has found a new way to reveal overlooked or marginalized histories — by re-imagining the statues of dead white males who benefited from colonialism or the slave trade.

For Locke’s new series, which was unveiled today in New York, he has focused on the city’s increasingly polarizing public monuments. Through his photo-based work, memorials to George Washington, Christopher Columbus, and Peter Stuyvesant, and others become strange, fetish-like figures that seem burdened by their flawed reputations.

Rather than knocking the controversial sculptures off their pedestals, or banishing them from their prominent locations, the London-based artist’s creative response involves smothering images of the statues in layers of cheaply sourced, often garish or gruesome regalia. In so doing, he hopes to illuminate a past that is all too often glossed over.

His new show “Patriots,” which is his first at New York’s PPOW gallery, includes an image of a particularly repellant memorial that until recently stood in Central Park. The 19th-century surgeon, J. Marion Sims, is a Josef Mengele-like figure for many African Americans. The “father of modern gynecology,” Sims advanced surgery by experimenting on enslaved black women without an anesthetic.

Read more of this piece via artnet News.