John Akomfrah

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

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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 explore the experience of the African diaspora in Europe and the USA. 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. Recent 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 Vertigo Sea (2015),that explores what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls ‘the sublime seas’. Fusing archival 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. Shot on the island of Skye, the Faroe Islands and the Northern regions of Norway, Vertigo Sea has as its narrative spine two remarkable books: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and Heathcote Williams’ epic poem Whale Nation (1988), a harrowing and inspiring work which charts the history, intelligence and majesty of the largest mammal on earth.

Akomfrah (born 1957, Accra, Ghana) lives and works in London. He has had numerous solo exhibitions including the Exchange, Penzance, UK; Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen, Denmark; STUK Kunstcentrum, Leuven, Belgium and Arnolifini, Bristol, UK in 2016; Bildmuseet Umeå, Umeå, Sweden (2015); Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan, USA (2014); Tate Britain, London, UK (2013-14) and a week long series of screenings at MoMA, New York, USA (2011). His participation in international group shows has included: ‘The 1980s: Today’s Beginnings?’, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; ‘British Art Show 8’, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2016); ‘British Art Show 8’, Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds; ‘All the World’s Futures’, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy (2015); ‘History is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain’, Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2015); ‘Africa Now: Politcal Patterns’, SeMA, Seoul, South Korea (2014); Sharjah Biennial 11, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (2013); Liverpool Biennial, UK (2012) and Taipei Biennial, Taiwan (2012). He has also been featured in many international film festivals, including Sundance Film Festival, Utah, USA (2013 and 2011) and Toronto International Film Festival (2012).

Get Involved

Be part of the live audience!

Join us in person and participate in the conversation between Tanya and John discussing the themes of the project. You will also be encouraged to produce your own visual response which will be incorporated into the final portrait.

We’ll supply digital and analogue materials for your response to John which will be brought into the production of the final portrait.

Live Stream

Join us online!

Through the event live stream and social media you can follow proceedings and contribute questions and visual responses to the project. We encourage the posting of your own visual response to John.

The livestream will be broadcast on YouTube via our channel and live on this webpage.
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Venue

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Chamberlain Square,
Birmingham B3 3DH

0121 348 8032
www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag
Twitter: @bm_ag
Instagram: @bm_ag