he month, Covent Garden unveiled a new art installation by London artist Lakwena. Floral Street’s bollards were hand-painted with tart patterns by Lakwena, and King Street and Henrietta Street are home to flags she adorned with bold typographic messages; Nothing can keep us apart. Ordered as a welcome message, as we rediscover our city and its various cultural and social neighborhoods, we can’t imagine a better way to kick off our summer of (whisper it…) freedom.
Lakwena has created works in the public domain internationally, from installations at Tate Britain, Somerset House, Facebook, and the Southbank Center in London to a juvenile detention center in Arkansas, a monastery in Vienna and the Bowery Wall in New York. She is proud to create works that she calls “prayers and painted meditations that respond to and reappropriate elements of popular culture”; it’s one of them, and the artist herself tells us more.
How did you develop your installation for Covent Garden? Did “Nothing Can Keep Us Apart” happened first, or later in the design process, and what does that phrase mean to you?
I almost always start with words, and I’ve done it here. The phrase means a lot to me. He talks about our connection with God and with each other.
How does it feel to add your name to a list that includes Damien Hurst, Charles Pétillon, Alex Chinneck, Anya Hindmarch and Anthony Burrill, who have all created large-scale works of art for Covent Garden?
Unbelievable. I am very honored and grateful to have been invited to create a work of art in such a historic space.
Does art have an important role to play in documenting the impact of the pandemic on our lives?
Art can play a very important role in documenting important moments in society, whether through paintings, films or songs. I love when I see a painting or a movie or hear a song that speaks in or out of a specific moment in time. I think it’s a great way to deal with what’s happening, and also later to share what happened with future generations. There is a really powerful quote written on the Secession building in Vienna. I went there once and I keep a picture of it on my studio wall. It was written in German, but it means “Each era has its art, each art has its freedom”. I intend my work to speak to and from this age.
How has the pandemic affected your artistic production?
My husband has a hair salon on Hackney Road called SliderCuts. He couldn’t work and did most of the childcare, so I had more time to work than since my first son was born almost five years ago.
Who or what inspires you in 2021 so far?
Circa is an artistic intervention that periodically takes to a big screen in Leicester Square this year. It replaces advertisements with art. I like the concept, its accessibility and its scope.
What are your favorite places in London, in terms of inspiration?
I really like Bold Tendencies, an art space in a former multi-story parking lot in Peckham. I like nature. There is a wildflower meadow that grows in summer at Hackney Downs, my local park. I like the fact that it’s not always there. If it’s the right time of year and I’m free, I like to go out there and just take it. There is a great garage sale every week in front of my house where I like to go for inspiration.
What can you tell us about the collection of works found in your own home and its significance?
It focuses on the interplay between my practices as an artist and a mother of two young sons. I painted the walls of my house. I paint to counter various forms of oppression, both subtle and overt. I wanted to create a space of protection and healing for my sons but also for my friends, my neighbors, my extended family. And, with Covid and all, those ideas all started to resonate even more widely. I was invited to recreate my living room at Hastings Contemporary, which was epic, and this exhibit is now over so the paintings are back at my house, where I continue to work on the project and will eventually invite a number of of visitors to see it in situ.
What else can we expect from you this year?
I am working on a series of patchwork textile pieces also inspired by my painting Nothing can keep us apart. No more paintings, no more installations. A collaboration with an iconic fashion brand, and a collaboration with architects on a huge permanent structure.
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