The Wick - Interview Lakwena Maciver, Artist The Wick - Interview Lakwena Maciver, Artist
Monday Muse

Interview Lakwena Maciver, Artist

Interview
Lakwena Maciver
Photography
Samuel Butt
24 October 2021
Interview
Lakwena Maciver
Photography
Samuel Butt
24 October 2021
True to her name, which means “messenger of the chief” in the northern Ugandan language Acholi, Ugandan-British artist Lakwena likes to make a statement with her eye-catching paintings.

A firm believer that art should be accessible and enjoyable, she’s best known for her Instagram-worthy murals. Utilising a combination of words, kaleidoscopic colours and bold patterns, her work, which has appeared in public spaces from London’s Tate Britain to a juvenile detention centre in Arkansas and a monastery in Vienna, explores ideas relating to decolonisation, redemption and escapism.

As well as recently taking over Somerset House’s courtyard and West Wing corridor for the 2021 edition of the 1-54 Courtyard Sculpture Commission, she has also transformed the concrete roof terrace of Temple tube station with a technicolour art installation. Before you rush off to Temple to see ‘Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground’, which is on show until April 2022, you can discover Lakwena’s thoughts on public art and being an artist and a mother below.

THE WICK:   Talk us through a typical Monday.

Lakwena Maciver:   Get woken up by the kids. Lie in bed as long as I can. Get ready. Ride to the studio. Go through emails. Work out what needs to be done for the day. Do it. Go home.

TW:   You’ve transformed the rooftop of Temple Underground Station with a rainbow of geometric forms. How do you see this public work fitting into the fabric of the city?

LM:   I actually see it as an intervention, breaking up the concrete and greyness of the city. Not so much fitting in as breaking up the city.

TW:   What inspired your works for this year’s 1-54 Courtyard Sculpture Commission?

LM:   Lots of things. Flowers. Wildness. Paying my respects. This series of works began when I was invited to make an artwork for a basketball court in Arkansas. I’d recently watched this viral video of Senator Flowers of Arkansas raging against stand-your-ground laws and was really inspired to make something that would honour her, but also speak about rising up. So, it was beautiful timing. Then when this opportunity at 1-54 came up, it felt like a good fit for that. I was thinking about the significance of Somerset House as a historical site, and I was playing with this idea of the courtyard being a garden, where games might be played and where wildflowers might grow, in contrast to having a very manicured lawn with signs up saying ‘no ball games’. That’s where basketball and flowers come in. Probably an unusual mix, but it all makes sense to me. I like how universal basketball is – that it is accessible. Also, that it’s a game dominated by African-diaspora men. It is a beautiful expression of black male joy.

TW:   How does the location of your installations influence your approach?

LM:   I really like to respond to a site rather than just put something random in it. I like to research a space and weave a story into/out of it. My recent intervention at Temple Station is a good example. Even just the name of the site had so much potential to be played with.

“I like to research a space and weave a story into/out of it.”

TW:   What do you consider the role of public art to be, and what are your hopes for future commissions?

LM:   Something I think about quite often, and I’m still working through, is the human instinct to decorate, in both senses of the word. The more obvious sense is making spaces look nice, which is really important, but the second meaning is equally if not more significant. The activity of rewarding and holding up a person/idea and saying that this is good, worthy and valuable. I think the role of public art is to do both of these things. And I think that in our cities, so often the vast majority of public space is used for commercial purposes rather than art. My hope for future public art commissions is that that balance will change.

TW:   How has becoming a mother changed your artistic view and the subjects you want to respond to?

LM:   It’s made me think about what I want to pass on, what kind of culture I’m making with my work. I’ve spoken before about wanting to make spaces of safety, protection and empowerment for them. My project ‘Homeplace’, where I painted my home, was very much linked to that line of thinking. That’s definitely something that has become more important to me as I realise how much influence I have over them and want to use that for good.

TW:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

CR:   Abimaro

TW:   Cultural quarantine – which album, book and artwork do you want with you?

CR:   ‘Sangonini’ by 4 Etoiles, the Bible and some kind of conceptual vending machine sculpture that would dispense anything I needed.


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