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Starting from the How Do You Want Me? (2007) photographic series, this midcareer review offers a monographic reading of Hew Locke’s assemblage practice, characterized by an aesthetic of accumulated excess that establishes archival passageways to the baroque era in which issues of sovereignty, that is to say the violence at the disposal of the state, took on added resonance in cross-cultural contexts of slavery and colonialism. Interpreting Locke’s interest in heraldry, coats of arms, and other emblems of sovereignty in light of Walter Benjamin’s insights into allegorical forms of signifying indirection, it is argued that Afro-modern diasporic traditions of masquerade convey critical optimism when they acknowledge that tyrannical identities are always susceptible to mutation in the human condition of becoming.

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