Vibrant colour and bold text combine in Lakwena’s joyful and gently subversive work. Her paintings, murals and installations often reference everyday shared experiences and popular culture, such as songs, fashion and basketball. Bringing messages of hopeful possibility, Lakwena speaks to points of connection and commonality between people, with a utopian vision that dreams of redemption and liberation. In the Acholi language of northern Uganda her name aptly means ‘messenger of the chief’.
Lakwena’s new paintings and textile works will transform The Weston Gallery at YSP into an immersive and colourful environment through the grey winter months, using dazzling hues and concise phrases to communicate powerful concepts. The artist has taken inspiration from YSP’s landscape and particularly the 18th-century ha-has – concealed walled ditches that were built to stop livestock straying into the gardens without the need for visible fences. Simultaneous with the ha-has’ construction, the 18th/19th century Enclosure Acts dramatically changed the configuration of land in this country, removing ‘commoners’ access, placing it in private ownership and demarcating it with partitions. Lakwena uses these historic ideas to comment on how in today’s society, despite the illusion of openness, public speech and public space are increasingly tightly controlled by a privileged elite.
A bank of vivid panels incessantly proclaiming the word ‘Ha-ha’ overturns the feature’s deliberately clandestine existence and instead writes its name large and impossible to ignore. When repeated in this way the allusion to laughter is also inescapable. Yet beneath this appearance of jollity, Lakwena asks whether we are laughing along or being laughed at by those at the helm of power, drawing our attention to structures of control.
The idea of paradise, a transcendent and idyllic space of healing, recurs in Lakwena’s practice and she describes her works as “escape routes, afrofuturistic portals to utopia”. In developing her ideas for this new exhibition, Lakwena considered YSP’s verdant landscape as representing an Eden-like place that once belonged to wealthy landowners but is now openly accessible by a diverse audience.
Within her work, she questions hierarchies of access to speech and space, and imagines what the paradise we all long for might look like without the boundaries that are created around us and the systems that polarise us. Central to this particular body of work is her insistence that whilst on our quests for Utopia, we allow space for dissent.
Lakwena’s textile works resonate with the rich history of textiles in West Yorkshire and also the tradition of making banners to convey potent messages of resistance. Critically, at a time when revolutionary rhetoric and activism are rife, but only the orthodox ideology is allowed, Lakwena’s work challenges assumptions of liberty and provokes us to question how free public speech really is.
“I’m really excited to be showing at YSP. For me there’s something really powerful and significant about showing work in the context of the English countryside. Thinking historically and politically, themes of power, ownership, access, control, boundaries, and division all come to mind, and this is the impetus for the work. But at the same time, physically being in and experiencing the landscape, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of liberation, and an invitation to let the work speak freely. And that’s what I intend to do.” – Lakwena
Exhibition supported by Vigo Gallery.
Photo: Installation view of Lakwena Maciver ‘Jump’ Hastings Contemporary, Hastings. Courtesy of the artist, Vigo Gallery and Hastings Contemporary.