An artwork by Hew Locke for Runnymede, Surrey, UK to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta. Commissioned by Surrey County Council and National Trust.

Hew Locke’s work varies from large-scale wall bead hangings through to small-scale, layered  drawings. The most dominant strand of ideas are the artist’s appropriation of the emblems of power: portraits of royalty, coats of arms, public statues, share certificates. These are reproduced, and added to, using all manner of embellishment and ornament. Coats of Arms are remade in strings of beads, royal portraits rendered in plastic flowers and jewellery, also used to adorn photographs of statues.

Photo: Tom D Morgan

As one writer has suggested:

“Queen Elizabeth, coats of arms and trophies of colonial power, Hew Locke’s work is festooned with the icons of British hierarchy all reproduced Archimboldo-style out of the carefully placed plastic stuff of global commerce” (Jens Hoffman in the artist monograph Stranger in Paradise, Black Dog Publishing)

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Hew Locke, El Dorado, 2005

The embellishment and decorative aspects of Hew’s work is often the result of layering different time periods: centuries-old coats of arms are re-imagined in the cheap throwaway materials of modern life such as market-stall jewellery; share certificates from old, now defunct companies are transformed by the artist revealing another aspect to the company’s finances.

Hew is fascinated by history and how events of the past are recalled and represented today, making him a astute choice for the Runnymede public art commission. He was born in Scotland in 1959 and was brought up from an early age in Guyana until he returned to the UK in 1980. In Guyana, a former colony and newly independent Commonwealth country, he grew up surrounded by images of Queen Elizabeth II and other symbols of British colonial power. His use of these images appears to be as much about adorning and celebrating them, as it is about re-imaging and perhaps critiquing their power.

To explore Hew’s work in more detail here are four useful starting points:

The Nameless (2010) and Vita Veritas, Victoria (2007)
These are two large scale bead works by Hew Locke. Vita Veritas Victoria is in the Tate Collection. When The Nameless was being made for Hew’s exhibition at Hales Gallery, Tate made a video with Hew talking about his bead works, coats of arms series and how this style developed. Watch the video.

Ruined (2010)
Since 2008, Hew has made many artworks using old company share certificates, often drawing directly onto the certificates. Ruined, a permanent public artwork for Brunswick Cemetery Gardens, Bristol and produced by Situations, is a cluster of ten cast iron grave markers, each representing a ‘dead company. Watch a video about Ruined.

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Hew Locke, Ruined, 2010. Permanent work, Brunswick Cemetery, Bristol UK

For Those In Peril (2011)
Ships and boats often feature in Hew Locke’s work. There are three in The Jurors. Whether it is slave ships, refugee boats, fishing vessels, pirate ships, The Windrush or tankers full of oil, rubbish or manufactured goods, Hew sees these vessels as symbolic of international trade and commerce, both now and in the past. His work For Those In Peril, was made for the Folkestone Triennial in 2011 and displayed a diversity of model boats, decorated and embellished and hung from the ceiling of a church. This video conversation between Hew and Kobena Mercer begins with a discussion about this artwork. Watch the video.

For Those in Peril on The Sea, 2011. Photo: Thierry Bal
For Those in Peril on The Sea, 2011. Photo: Thierry Bal


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The xiezhi is a legendary creature and symbol of justice and law in Chinese mythology that can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (from 206 BCE). An inherently just beast, the xiezhi will point its horn at the wrong party in a fight or argument. Xiezhi is shown on The Jurors surrounded by scratches and gouges, as though made by its sharp claws.

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The house in Yangon, Burma, where politician Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest for 15 out of 21 years until her release in 2010, despite her political party having fairly won government elections in Burma.

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In 1781, 133 slaves were thrown overboard from this ship, Zong. The owners made an insurance claim for the loss of their human cargo and the resulting legal case caused public outcry. On the sails, the west African symbol Epa represents captivity, law and justice.

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Ancient Egyptian scales are topped with the head of Ma'at, the goddess of truth, justice and balance. A dead person's heart is weighed against a feather to see if the owner is worthy to enter paradise. Ma'at's symbolism is still apparent in the western personification of Lady Justice.

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This hollow boab tree in Australia was adapted in the 1890s by police as a temporary prison for aboriginal prisoners. Hew Locke has added additional graffiti to its surface, each date and name referring to the ever-developing history of aboriginal Australians, their land and human rights.

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Chinese script that describes the Confucian principles of Ren (humaneness), Li (ritual) and Yi (justice) at the core of Confucian ideas of how a society should be organised, developed in the Han Dynasty (from 206 BCE).

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A boat carrying refugees inscribed with the names of sea vessels connected to legal cases which marked changes to maritime law, the responsibilities of nations towards refugees, and maritime search and rescue protocols.

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The Golden Rule states you should treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. Versions of this concept are found in all major world religions and philosophies and the phrase is expressed on The Jurors in 14 different languages.

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“The Disappeared” – a collective name for those who been taken away, at the behest of a state or political organisation, across the world. Displays, such as this, erected by protesting relatives play an important role in sustaining a visible reminder that the Disappeared fates go unanswered and are a crime against humanity.

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Two representations of freedom of speech: in public and online. In 2014, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, called for an online Magna Carta to protect and enshrine the independence of the medium he created and the rights of its users worldwide.

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The keys found on some of the seats represent prison keys, and include the key to Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, and one of the keys to The Bastille which was sent to George Washington in 1790.

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Nelson Mandela's prison cell where he served 18 years of his life-sentence for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state. He was released in 1990 after 27 years incarceration.

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The destruction or redaction of evidence is a world-wide activity undertaken by states wishing to hide incriminating documentation of their activities. In 1989 the East German secret police's shredding of files was halted by German citizens taking over the Stasi offices.

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A loudhailer belonging to Harvey Milk, gay rights campaigner and first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California from 1977-78. Before his assassination, Milk sponsored a significant civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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A portable charkha, or hand spinning wheel for cotton, designed by Mahatma Gandhi and used in the 1930s as a political symbol of resistance to British imported goods and British rule.

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A combination of images depicting the Emancipation of the Serfs (1861) by Tsar Alexander II. Serfdom was the feudal system that tied Russian peasants irrevocably to their landlords. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Moscow was to have commemorated the event, but it was never finished due to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

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Poet Phillis Wheatley was the first published African-American woman (1773), and Mary Prince was the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to the British parliament (1828) and the first black woman to write and publish an autobiography (1831), at a time at which it was claimed that slaves were not capable of such writing.

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An ermine (a stoat in its winter coat) and its heraldic representation can be found on a number of chairs. The pure white fur of the ermine, a symbol of incorruptibility, is used in judicial gowns.

An Amerindian headdress, forest and a river clustered with gold nuggets. Indigenous land claims have been addressed, with varying degrees of success on a national and international level, since colonization. Such claims may be based upon the principles of international law, treaties, common law, or domestic constitutions or legislation.

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In 1920, marches of blind trade unionists from across the UK converged on Trafalgar Square under the banner "Justice not Charity" in support of the Blind Persons Act, which became law later that year and established disability rights as a fundamental principle in British society.

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Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman to practice law in India. She became a legal advocate for women in purdah in India, whose religious and cultural beliefs prevented them from speaking to men outside their family.

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A section from Clause 39 of an edition of Magna Carta stating that no one is to be imprisoned without "lawful judgement of his peers", the fundamental principle of trial by jury in common legal systems across the world.

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Oscar Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol describes the brutalising effect of the prison system, written in 1898 whilst in exile in France and based on his observations when incarcerated for homosexual offences in 1895.

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© Surrey County Council & Hew Locke 2015