Colby Museum spring exhibitions examine empire

February 6, 2020

Colby Museum spring exhibitions examine empire

Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing is the most comprehensive exhibition of the UK-based artist’s work

WATERVILLE, MAINE, February 6, 2019 – On February 20, the Colby College Museum of Art will celebrate the opening of two exhibitions—Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing and The Sea in a Jug: The Welch Collection of Islamic and Later Indian Art—that each touch upon legacy of British colonialism and the global ramifications of empire still unfolding today.

“We’re all floating on the same ocean,” notes the artist Hew Locke. This insight provides one of the undercurrents in Here’s the Thing (on view through June 7, 2020), the most comprehensive exhibition to date of his work to date, and one that wraps up its international tour in Maine this spring.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1959 but raised largely in Guyana—a British colony from the nineteenth century until 1970—Locke ferried between two continents during his childhood.

Within his maritime imaginary, the artist addresses the unfinished work of empire, examining national symbols that have underwritten our received histories of civilization and primitivism. But his preoccupations with the past do not limit his vision. He considers histories of imperialism, migration, and diaspora, along with the realities faced by present-day political and climate refugees. By his own account, he is “making global links between people on the sea.”

“To draw out these latent histories, Locke exploits the emblematic languages of nationhood, the military, nautical tattoos, Freemasonry and so on, generating a synthetic syntax which, by design, fails to cohere,” writes Diana Tuite, Katz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Colby College Museum of Art, in the accompanying exhibition catalogue.

The exhibition originated at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, before traveling to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. The Colby Museum iteration will feature The Nameless , a major site-specific mural installation that was not on view at the Kemper. For those living in the northeastern United States, the Colby Museum show will be the first opportunity to view much of Locke’s work, and it will have particular resonance with this maritime region’s colonial past.

Locke will be on site at the Colby Museum for the show’s opening celebration and the final days of its installation and will be available for interviews.

Opening on the same day in the Museum’s Upper Jetté Gallery is The Sea in a Jug: The Welch Collection of Islamic and Later Indian Art (on view through May 3, 2020). The exhibition features works from the thirteenth to the twentieth century, overlapping with British commercial influence and colonial rule in India.

The core of The Sea in the Jug includes paintings, drawings, and ornamental objects collected by the American curator and scholar Stuart Cary Welch (1928–2008), which are on loan from the Welch family. Additional loans have been provided by the Harvard Art Museums, where Welch worked for more than four decades. A selection of Indian paintings from the Colby Museum’s collection is also on view.

In the context of the exhibition, the Farsi saying “the sea in a jug” (بحر در کوزه, bahr dar koozeh ) represents the idea that a subset of things—in this case a group of artworks—can contribute to our understanding of a much larger cultural field. This project was organized in collaboration with Marta Ameri, assistant professor in the art department at Colby, and students in her fall 2019 course “ Art of the Book in the Islamic World .” Select loans from the Welch Collection will remain at the Colby Museum on a long-term basis, supporting curricular study.


Colby College Museum of Art

Founded in 1959, the Colby College Museum of Art is a teaching museum, a destination for American art, and a place for engagement with local and global communities. Located on the Colby College campus in Waterville, Maine, the Museum holds more than 10,000 works of art and offers more than 38,000 square feet of exhibition space. Major works by American artists including Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, and William Merritt Chase form the core of the historical collection, along with significant holdings of American folk art. The modern movement is represented by artists including John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Joan Mitchell, Isamu Noguchi, and Alma Thomas. The museum also maintains a significant collection of contemporary American art including works by Alex Katz, Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt, Maya Lin, Kara Walker, Elizabeth Murray, Martin Puryear, Terry Winters, and Julie Mehretu. Other principal areas of the collection include Greek and Roman antiquities, European prints and drawings, and early Chinese art. The recent donation of more than 1,500 artworks from Paula and Peter Lunder expands that scope, and the creation of the Lunder Institute for American Art enhances the Museum’s engagement with scholarly and creative production.

Colby College

Founded in 1813, Colby is one of America’s most selective colleges. Serving only undergraduates, Colby’s rigorous academic program is rooted in deep exploration of ideas and close interaction with world-class faculty scholars. Students pursue intellectual passions, choosing among 56 majors or developing their own. Independent and collaborative research, study abroad, and internships offer robust opportunities to prepare students for postgraduate success. More than 100 courses at Colby, from across the disciplines, integrate the Museum’s resources to enhance the academic experience. Colby is home to a community of 1,850 dedicated and diverse students from around the globe. Its Maine location provides easy access to world-class research institutions and civic engagement experiences.