John Akomfrah Summons the History of Migration in Chillingly Beautiful New Films
The 1980s was a time of political and social upheaval in Britain, with racial conflicts, anti-government movements, labour strikes, gay liberation and feminist groups influencing culture. During the time, John Akomfrah investigated histories of migration and he continues to reflect postcolonial perspective in his work. A founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective (1982-1998), John Akomfrah has gained critical acclaim for his films that gave voices to African diaspora in Britain, Europe and America. Akomfrah says, ‘I want to focus on the reality, in which most people leave their home as a means of survival, rather than simply seeking for better lives.’ In his work, he repurposes newsreels, combining text, music and archival documents to shift debates on politics, media and received historic narratives.
Produced from hundreds of hours of archival material, The Unfinished Conversation examines identity and memory through the life of Jamaican-born academic Stuart Hall, who arrived in Britain in 1951. One of the most influential thinkers of the 20th Century and founding-editor of the New Left Review, Stuart Hall is widely considered to be the father of Cultural Studies. Akomfrah’s rich and multi-layered visual style mirrors Hall’s assertion that identity is never complete, but something always in transition, a process of identity formation he described as ‘an endless, ever unfinished conversation’. For Akomfrah, the work raises questions about what it means to exist differently in society, and about agency, about what we can do after we conceive of these differences.
Image rights: Purchased jointed by Tate and the British Council with assistance from the Art Fund
A celebrated artist, filmmaker, lecturer, and writer, John Akomfrah, OBE, explores the complexities of the African Diaspora in Europe through his lush, lyrical films. He is considered a seminal figure in black British film. Among his numerous awards is the Taipei Golden Lion. He is particularly interested in highlighting the individuals affected by the Diaspora and the trauma caused by their displacement. Through his films, Akomfrah aims to fill in what he sees as voids in this history, and he often begins his work with archival research. Among his recent works is Tropikos (2014), a video focused on waterways and their connection to the slave trade. Akomfrah was also one of the co-founders of the Black Audio Film Collective (founded in 1982), which was formed to give other artists the opportunity to realize their projects.
British, b. 1957, Accra, Ghana, based in London, United Kingdom