'Ashes' by Steve McQueen
Ashes (2002–2015) is a two-channel video installation by artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen. It is composed of footage filmed by McQueen over ten years, on two separate visits to the Caribbean island of Grenada — a former French and British colony that achieved independence in 1974.
Please note you will need to book a free ticket to visit the gallery. Plan your visit here.
With unused Super 8mm footage from McQueen’s 2002 film Carib’s Leap projected onto one side of a double-sided screen, a young man nicknamed Ashes is depicted as he rides the waves on an orange boat — exuberant, carefree and joyful against the backdrop of the apparent utopia of island life.
Projected onto the reverse screen is a scene which takes place over ten years later. On McQueen’s return to the island in 2013 he learned the news of Ashes’ murder at the hands of drug dealers. Later, on hearing from the young man’s aunt that he had been buried in an unmarked grave, McQueen went back to Grenada, filming Ashes’ re-burial, as he is given a proper tombstone inscribed with his name. The narration, voiced by a friend of Ashes, gives an account of what happened to him. McQueen’s film emphasises the impact of the international drug trade upon the islanders and the ongoing legacy of colonialism.
Ashes died on 30th May 2002, aged 25.
Steve McQueen is an award-winning artist known for both his feature-length films and his film and video installations, for which he won the Turner Prize in 1999. Born in Ealing, West London in 1969, McQueen was raised by a Grenadan father and a Trinidadian mother. He studied at Chelsea College of Art and later became enthused by film at Goldsmiths, University of London. His feature-length films include 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Widows (2018). His anthology series of five films set within London’s Caribbean community (Small Axe) was screened by the BBC in 2020. Steve McQueen was knighted in the 2020 New Year Honours for services to film.