Throughout HMS Belfast a transformation has taken place. IWM has invited artist Hew Locke to add his own imaginative twist to the experience of HMS Belfast.
In 1962, at the height of the Cold War, HMS Belfast was making her last international voyage. The ship called at Trinidad exactly three months after Carnival. Locke imagines an alternative history with the ship arriving in time for these celebrations. By altering the ship’s normal displays he shows us the crew preparing to take part. The mannequins are dramatically costumed with masks and tattoos which evoke the hopes and fears of the men on board, and have an unsettling and other-worldly quality. Like Carnival itself the installation embodies ideas of celebration but also has a darker and more complex side.
Three months after HMS Belfast left, Trinidad gained independence from Britain, part of the shift in global power relationships after the Second World War. October that year would see the Cuban missile crisis, triggered when the Soviet Union sought a Caribbean base for nuclear missiles threateningly near to the United States. This was a time of change and uncertainty.
The title of the installation is ironic – these are not tourists, and this is no cruise ship. Ships such as this one have long been sent to parts of the globe where there is conflict or change, as a symbol of physical and diplomatic power. Ships and images of ships have often featured in Locke's work. He has seen them as ‘arks’, fragile vessels vulnerable to storm or attack and transports to another country, as well as instruments of control. Through this fantasy narrative Locke explores not only the feelings and experience of the crew, but also the very real impact of warships on the people of the lands they visit.
The Tourists by Hew Locke at HMS Belfast is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.