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14-18 NOW / John Akomfrah
John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah

Artist

Image credit: John Akomfrah at his London studio, 2016

John Akomfrah is a hugely respected artist and filmmaker, whose works are characterised by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics and often explores the experiences of migrant diasporas globally.

Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today. Their first film, Handsworth Songs (1986) explored the events surrounding the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London through a charged combination of archive footage, still photos and newsreel. The film won several international prizes and established a multi-layered visual style that has become a recognisable motif of Akomfrah’s practice.

Other works include the three-screen installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), a moving portrait of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s life and work; Peripeteia (2012), an imagined drama visualising the lives of individuals included in two 16th century portraits by Albrecht Dürer and Mnemosyne (2010) which exposes the experience of migrants in the UK, questioning the notion of Britain as a promised land by revealing the realities of economic hardship and casual racism.

In 2015, Akomfrah premiered his three-screen film installation Verigo Sea (2015), that explores what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls ‘the sublime seas’. Fusing archive material, readings from classical sources and newly shot footage, Akomfrah’s piece focuses on the disorder and cruelty of the whaling industry and juxtaposes it with scenes of many generations of migrants making epic crossings of the ocean for a better life. Akomfrah presented his largest film installation to date, Purple, in 2017 at the Barbican in London, co-commissioned by Bildmuseet Umea, Sweden, TBA21 – Academy, The Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston and Museum Colecao Berardo, Lisbon. The six-channel video installation addresses climate change, human communities adn the wilderness. More recently, Akomfrah debuted Precarity at Prospect 4 New Orleans. Through archival imagery and newly-shot footage, Precarity follows the life of forgotten New Orleans jazz singer Buddy Bolden.

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