Queen Victoria statue to be ‘dressed’ for Commonwealth Games

An artist is set to “dress” Birmingham’s Queen Victoria statue for the Commonwealth Games cultural festival.

Queen Victoria statue in Victoria Square
Queen Victoria statue in Victoria Square

Guyanese-British artist Hew Locke is planning a temporary intervention that will wrap around the existing statue of the monarch in Victoria Square.

The project is part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival cultural programme and is set to launch on June 14 and available to view over the summer months, with more details set to be announced.

Mr Locke – who has exhibited at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery – has previously proposed “statue-dressing” of monuments dedicated to divisive historical figures including slave trader Edward Colston.

He has exhibited work showing plans for decorating statues of both Colston and George Washington but has not until now staged an intervention on a public statue.

A 2019 exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery called Here’s the Thing featured figures decorated with ornate regalia and skulls.

He has described the forthcoming Victoria statue project – entitled Foreign Exchange – as a “re-imagining” in an Instagram post and added: “Yes at last! They are letting me loose on an actual statue.”

The news has not gone down well in some parts, with the Save Our Statues campaign describing the project on Twitter as “cultural vandalism”.

They posted: “This is hugely offensive. It is not okay to let people disrespect the symbols of our heritage.”

But in a statement, the festival and Ikon – who are commissioning the project – said the work would be “imaginative and respectful” and would “not be a permanent alteration”.

A spokesperson said: “Foreign Exchange is a temporary public artwork by Guyanese-British artist Hew Locke, commissioned by Ikon for the Birmingham 2022 Festival: a region-wide celebration of culture coinciding with the Commonwealth Games.

“Locke will reimagine Birmingham’s city-centre sculpture of Queen Victoria, in an imaginative and respectful way, maintaining its location in Victoria Square.

“It will launch to the public on June 14, 2022 and remain on view throughout the summer months, and during the Games.

“As a temporary intervention that wraps around the existing statue, the artwork will not be a permanent alteration and the statue’s original state will be preserved.

“At the end of the project, the original sculpture will be revealed again with the hope of encouraging people to admire its artistry more closely than they may have done before.

“Foreign Exchange will be seen within the context of a wide-reaching six-month programme of over 200 performances, events and projects which all consider our place in the Commonwealth, the present moment and stories of Birmingham and the West Midlands.

“As an artist, Hew Locke has been reimagining historical statues for twenty years. His interest in the power of statues originates from his childhood in Guyana where he passed a sculpture of Queen Victoria every day on the way to school.

“Foreign Exchange will be his first temporary public sculpture, and a natural progression of many years of research and exploration into the symbolic power of public monuments.”

Mr Locke was born in Edinburgh in 1959, lived in Georgetown, Guyana, from 1966 to 1988 and is currently based in London.

The spokesperson said: “His work is represented in many prestigious international art collections, including The Government Art Collection, Tate, British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

“Meanwhile, Foreign Exchange marks a continuation of his affiliation with Birmingham; Ikon’s critically acclaimed 2019 solo exhibition, Here’s the Thing, was the most comprehensive presentation of Locke’s work to date.

“The Birmingham 2022 Festival and Ikon continue to work with Birmingham City Council in relation to the creation of this temporary public artwork responding to a permanent heritage asset.

“Ikon and the Birmingham 2022 Festival are excited to announce further details about Foreign Exchange this Spring.”

The statue in Victoria Square was originally created in marble by Sir Thomas Brock and unveiled in 1901 before being recast in bronze by William Bloye and members of Birmingham Art School in 1951.

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