The Future's Gold: The Artist Behind Summer's Most Uplifting Exhibition

Artist Lakwena Maciver makes hopeful art. Her large-scale, vibrant colours and sign-writing-inspired positive slogans can be seen plastered on buildings and pavements across the world, allowing you to interact with her work in a way you simply can’t with gallery-hung art. Her aesthetic is inspired by her formative years in Nairobi, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and her hometown of London – all graphic lines, electric colours and geometric shapes.
Ahead of her current exhibition at KK Outlet, we spoke with the artist about her new body of work, The Future’s Gold. In unstable and often harrowing times, we all look for joyful and optimistic affirmations. What with austerity widening the gap between rich and poor, Islamophobic acid attacks being reported every few days, and a government merging with an anti-abortion and anti-LGBT party, it’s safe to say we’re in need of a little positive thinking. Having "created a series of paintings that give hope for a better future," the exhibition declares "allegiance to a future government; one that is higher, deeper, fuller, sweeter, older, newer, bolder, brighter, and more glorious than the current chaotic power structures". Sounds good to us. Here, we chat to Lakwena about the democracy of public art, the influence of Afrofuturism on her work, and how to stay positive in dark times.
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Hey Lakwena! What do you make of British politics today?
I think it’s a really interesting time right now. I’ve never been super clued-up on the ins and outs of politics, but I think what interests me is what I can see from where I’m standing; and that’s what I feel my role as an artist is. Things are shaking up – both for good and for bad – but what concerns me is I feel like there’s this big divide, and things are becoming very polarised. We seem to be in this situation where you’re demonised if you disagree with the status quo, and I don’t think that’s helpful. On the positive side, the fact that more and more young people are engaging with politics is brilliant. But the whole Leave/Remain debate in the Brexit argument was a clear example of this polarisation. Not that people shouldn’t have strong opinions – I have very strong opinions – but that somehow, there seems to be this very clear disconnect between different camps right now, and I’ve never felt that before in the UK. I feel like people are being a lot less reasonable and a lot more black and white. And life just isn’t black and white.
Do you think the future is gold for British politics?
I’m not sure. You really never know what’s going to happen. Crazy things happen! My faith is not in the British political system. Although I think it works a lot better than a lot of other places, which I’m grateful for, and as much as I’m engaged in politics, I’m also disillusioned by it. I don’t believe anyone can deliver the utopia we’re all seeking. And this is what these paintings are pointing to: a future otherworldly government.
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What does that future otherworldly government look like to you?
One without corruption, greed, inequality. With justice. Real freedom. And truth. And driven by love, above all else.
Your work is so interactive – we can walk over it, walk past it, look up at it – why do you make art this way?
Walking through galleries with paintings on walls doesn’t excite me. What excites me more is stuff that is immersive. Creating a space. I think especially in an image-saturated society, where you have a mini gallery pretty much on your phone, the physicality of things is really important for me. I think that’s why I love working on such a large scale. There’s a physical impact on me as I make the work, and then as I step back and look at it.
How do you think your work changes when it's in private spaces (galleries) and public spaces (wall murals)?
Very interesting. Private spaces can be a lot more curated. I can control the space more. It’s hard work, and it never goes exactly as you have in your head, as with anything creative. You make, and as you make it takes its own shape. But you have more control over the whole environment. The immersion. The ceiling, the floor – an enclosed space. There’s a freedom and a physicality to working outdoors. Also, there’s a vulnerability. The fact people are walking through, as what you’re making is in a vulnerable place. It’s half-done, it’s not the finished article. That’s quite difficult.
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What is the importance of having art like yours publicly available to everyone?
Democracy. I really don’t think art should be just for middle- and upper-class people. From a political perspective, I love the fact that there’s a levelling that happens when you make work outdoors. Anyone can see it. A homeless person on the street can see it; someone who would maybe be politely asked to leave a gallery. And that’s important to me. Other people who might not be asked to leave, but who go into galleries and find it an inaccessible environment, culturally, don’t have a problem relating to my paintings on big walls outside. So I really am grateful for that. Because those are people I want my work to speak to as much as traditional art lovers.
What inspires the font choice and colour schemes in your work?
The rainbow is about mercy. It’s also just so, so, so beautiful. Insanely beautiful. Magical. The metallics. Gold is such an incredible symbol. In so many cultures it represents value, importance, purity, divinity. These are all themes that I’m touching on. The gold is an interesting one. For this project I was considering using 23 carat gold leaf, for instance, and I have worked with this before. But I realised that it’s all about symbolism. So I’m actually more excited about using gold vinyl than using real gold leaf, as it’s more ‘democratic’ but is still referencing these themes.
You posted an inspiration mood board on your Instagram – what were your influences for The Future’s Gold?
I’ve realised, particularly with the title of this show, that my work correlates well with Afrofuturism. This concept of looking back to an idealised past, and looking forward to an idealised future. The musician Sun Ra has been really interesting to read about. My beliefs are different from his, but this concept of being in this world but dressing for a more glorious future is something that resonates within me. And with this body of work, you could say I have dressed the gallery space in garments for a more glorious future.
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Would you ever make political art for a particular party?
I would, but I would think very carefully. I don’t feel any of the major political parties right now represent me and I doubt they ever will, so whether it will happen… who knows?
How can we make political art ourselves?
The personal is political, right? So I think a lot of stuff is political that might not be classified as that. All the decisions we make – the things we say – come from our different world views. So if you are trying to say something with your art (which you don’t have to be), then you are likely making political art already.
Finally, how can we stay positive in today's world?
I am naturally a pessimist. Not sure why. I think because growing up, things didn’t always work out how I might have liked. As a way of dealing with life I was often told by my mum, who is an incredible woman – an incredible inspiration – to ‘not raise my hopes’. I was also told by Mum, though, about a messiah. A messiah is a deliverer, a saviour. And that’s actually the only reason I do raise my hopes.