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b. 1957, Ghana

John Akomfrah Biography

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. 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. 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.

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Akomfrah (born 1957) lives and works in London. He has had numerous solo exhibitions including The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, Australia (2017); Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, UK (2017); University of New South Wales, Paddington, Australia (2016); Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2016); The Exchange, Penzance, UK (2016); Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen, Denmark (2016); STUK Kunstcentrum, Leuven, Belgium (2016); Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (2016); Bildmuseet 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: Restless Earth, La Triennale di Milano, Milan, Italy (2017); Unfinished Conversations, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA (2017); The Place is Here, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2017); The 1980s: Today's Beginnings?, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (2016); British Art Show 8, (2015–17); 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, Canada (2012).

Text courtesy Lisson Gallery.

John Akomfrah Featured Artworks

Handsworth Songs by John Akomfrah contemporary artwork
John AkomfrahHandsworth Songs, 1986Single channel 16mm colour film transferred to video, sound
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by John Akomfrah contemporary artwork
John AkomfrahUntitled, 2016C-type print mounted on Dibond
104.4 x 155.2 cm
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by John Akomfrah contemporary artwork
John AkomfrahUntitled, 2016C-type print mounted on Dibond
104.4 x 155.2 cm
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by John Akomfrah contemporary artwork
John AkomfrahUntitled, 2016C-type print mounted on Dibond
104.4 x 155.2 cm
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery
Peripeteia by John Akomfrah contemporary artwork
John AkomfrahPeripeteia, 2012Single channel HD colour video, 5.1 sound
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by John Akomfrah contemporary artwork
John AkomfrahUntitled, 2016C-type print mounted on Dibond
101.6 x 152.4 cm
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery

John Akomfrah Represented By

Lisson Gallery contemporary art gallery in Lisson Street, London, United Kingdom Lisson Gallery London, New York, Shanghai

John Akomfrah In Ocula Magazine

Lahore Biennale 02: Past Reminders, Possible Futures Ocula Report Lahore Biennale 02: Past Reminders, Possible Futures By Qalandar Memon, Lahore

Qalandar Memon reviews the 2nd Lahore Biennale, between the sun and the moon, spread across the city in sites that were built and used by three sovereigns—the Mughals, the British, and the postcolonial Pakistan state.

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58th Venice Biennale: May You Live In Interesting Times Ocula Report 58th Venice Biennale: May You Live In Interesting Times By Mohammad Salemy, Venice

The 58th Venice Biennale, May You Live In Interesting Times (11 May–24 November 2019), certainly benefitted from low expectations, given the lacklustre curatorial of the previous edition, when different segments of the show were conceptually framed with titles like 'Pavilion of Joys and Fears' and 'Pavilion of Colours'. Add to this the...

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John Akomfrah Ocula Conversation John Akomfrah By Fawz Kabra, New York

The polyphonic has been a guiding principle in John Akomfrah 's work. As a founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective, which was active from 1982 to 1998, Akomfrah produced experimental documentaries and films that responded to growing social turmoil in 1980s Britain. The collective's first film essay, Handsworth Songs (1986), licensed...

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John Akomfrah In Related Press

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The Art Newspaper's pick of the 2019 Venice Biennale Related Press The Art Newspaper's pick of the 2019 Venice Biennale 30 April 2019, The Art Newspaper

There are hundreds of exhibitions in Venice during the Biennale. Alongside the main exhibition in the Giardini and Arsenale, there are 90 national presentations, many in nearby pavilions in the Giardini and in spaces around the Arsenale, but also dotted throughout Venice. Then there are the official collateral exhibitions in museums and galleries...

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John Akomfrah Commemorates the Colonial Soldiers Who Fought for a Cause that Was Not Theirs Related Press John Akomfrah Commemorates the Colonial Soldiers Who Fought for a Cause that Was Not Theirs 22 January 2019, Frieze

In the opening image of John Akomfrah's Mimesis: African Soldier (2018), we are confronted by a row of black and brown faces who smile nervously and knowingly into the camera. They represent the faces we seldom see in war documentaries or history books; their smiles evoke a quiet sense of unease and foreboding. Once the colonial subjects of...

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Strange Days review – fishy kisses, naked prancing and ribald revenge Related Press Strange Days review – fishy kisses, naked prancing and ribald revenge 3 October 2018, The Guardian

Strange Days: Memories of the Future is overwhelming: complex, at times annoying and confusing, repetitive, uplifting and baffling. Like life, really. Films and videos by 21 artists are spread over three floors of the Store X on London's Strand.

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John Akomfrah Discusses Channeling J.M.W. Turner and Disasters at Sea Related Press John Akomfrah Discusses Channeling J.M.W. Turner and Disasters at Sea 11 June 2018, Hyperallergic

When he was four years old, artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah came to London from Ghana with his parents. Because of their anti-colonial activism — they worked with Kwame Nkrumah, who became the country’s first prime minister and president after Ghana’s liberation from Britain —their lives were in danger. The family lived near the Tate, and...

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