It's like a parallel universe: Visiting the Newcomb Gallery can be like coming home and finding similar but unfamiliar furnishings in place of your own. Hew Locke, a London-based artist from Guyana, is inspired by his South American homeland's Caribbean Carnival processions, events celebrated in cities often situated below sea level and surrounded by swamps and old plantations, or along marshy coasts that are rapidly washing away. The first piece I saw, Mosquito Hall (pictured), looks so startlingly like a bayou country fishing camp from my childhood, I had to look twice to see the psychedelic swamp spirit hovering over it. In fact, the abandoned structure is a relic of Locke's childhood memories of Guyana, now immortalized in paint. Gallery walls are covered with his linear baroque flourishes, line drawings rendered in black rope and beads depicting the march of history as a fantastical Carnival procession with mythic gods, beasts and bizarre creatures brandishing assault rifles. It's a uniquely compelling installation created during Locke's first visit to New Orleans, when he was surprised to find so much that seemed so familiar, including Carnival beads dangling from the trees.
In the next room, a small mountain of colorfully bizarre fabric suggests something the Society of Saint Anne marching krewe might have left behind. But a label says it's Andrea Fraser's Monument to Discarded Fantasies, a conceptual installation comprised of Brazilian Carnival costumes. In a nearby gallery, Jamaican artist Ebony G. Patterson's paintings suggest ethereal androgynous figures in vortices of glitter and paint in what a wall text calls her "exploration of Jamaican dancehall culture as a space for ... masquerading and gender fluidity" in the "laissez-faire spirit of Carnival." Locke and Patterson also are in the Contemporary Arts Center's upcoming En Mas exhibition featuring Carnival as a contemporary performance art practice in the Caribbean, Europe and New Orleans. Locke's procession piece, Give and Take, co-produced by the CAC and Britain's Tate Modern, premiered at Tate's Turbine Hall last August.