Hew Locke’s “On the Tethys Sea” at the 57th Venice Biennale

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Hew Locke has created a new work, “On the Tethys Sea,” for the Diaspora Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale. The Diaspora Pavilion is a project designed to deliver 22 months of mentoring and professional development by ten selected mentors for eleven UK-based emerging artists whose work engaged with the topic of the diaspora. The project is sponsored by the International Curators Forum in partnership with University of the Arts London UAL (with the support of the Arts Council England International Showcasing Fund). Selected participants and mentors will showcase work in the Diaspora Pavilion during the 57th Venice Biennale in the Palazzo Pisani a Santa Marina. The Diaspora Pavilion will officially open to the public on May 13 and will continue through November 26, 2017. The opening event will take place on May 10 from 6:00 to 9:00pm.

Description of “On the Tethys Sea”: A ship is a symbolic object; a vessel of the soul, a means of escape, of both safety and danger.

Venice was founded by refugees fleeing violence.  Power grew out of its international trade and control of the Mediterranean. In On the Tethys Sea Locke has included boats similar to those he has seen in the lagoon. All seas are physically linked with each other.  People have flowed like water across the globe, seeking a better life or fleeing an intolerable one.

Decorations and talismans hang from the boats. Brass cut-outs include Portuguese mercenaries depicted by 16th century Benin sculptors, along with images of contemporary soldiers or mercenaries. The winged lion of St Mark is the symbol of Venice. Nazars are blue glass beads intended to deflect the Evil Eye. Flowers and boats are snared in nets. Coins from the Caribbean remind us of the Triangular Trade, and coins and medals from Gambia and Syria allude to the current refugee crisis.

The Tethys Sea was created 200 million years ago as Gondwana split from Lauasia. Through Locke’s various ships and maritime installations each reference specific sites, mythologies and histories, they also link in recollection to form a single, mythic fleet passing through history.

[Photo above: ‘Detail of On The Tethys Sea in progress in the studio’; courtesy of Hew Locke.]

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