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John Akomfrah: Signs of Empire at New Museum, through September 2, 2018

AKOM150001 John Akomfrah Vertigo Sea, 2015 Three channel HD colour video installation, 7.1 sound 48 minutes 30 seconds

“The New Museum presents the first American survey exhibition of the work of British artist, film director, and writer John Akomfrah (b. 1957, Accra, Ghana). Since the early 1980s, Akomfrah’s moving image works have offered some of the most rigorous and expansive reflections on the culture of the black diaspora, both in the UK and around the world. Akomfrah’s work initially came to prominence in the early 1980s as part of Black Audio Film Collective, a group of seven artists founded in 1982 in response to the 1981 Brixton riots. The collective produced a number of films notable for their mix of archival and found footage, interviews and realist depictions of contemporary England, and layered sound collages. In works like Handsworth Songs (1986), Akomfrah and Black Audio outlined the political and economic forces leading to social unrest throughout England. Akomfrah and Black Audio’s works were remarkable for their trenchant political inquiries and consistently experimental approach. They were also pioneering in their injection of narratives of black British history and culture into popular media through documentaries made for British television.

Although Akomfrah’s work has had a direct and profound influence on subsequent generations of British artists working across media, the importance of his work has yet to be fully felt in America. The centerpiece of the exhibition at the New Museum is Akomfrah’s celebrated three-screen video installation Vertigo Sea (2015). The work, which first premiered at the 2015 Venice Biennale and makes its New York debut at the New Museum, focuses on the ocean as an environmental, cultural, and historical force, connecting literature and poetry, the history of slavery, and contemporary issues of migration and climate change. The exhibition also includes The Unfinished Conversation (2012), Akomfrah’s complex reflection on the life and ideas of cultural theorist Stuart Hall; Expeditions I – Signs of Empire (1983), the first work produced by Black Audio Film Collective; and Transfigured Night (2013), a two-channel work looking at the relationship between the US and post-colonial African history.” — New Museum


John Akomfrah, Expeditions One – Signs of Empire, 1983 (stills). Single-channel 35mm color Ektachrome slides transferred to video, sound; 26 min. © Smoking Dogs Films. Courtesy Lisson Gallery


John Akomfrah, The Unfinished Conversation, 2012 (installation views). Three-channel HD video installation, 7.1 sound, color; 45:48 min. © Smoking Dogs Films. Courtesy Lisson Gallery


John Akomfrah, Transfigured Night, 2013. (installation views and last image still from video). Two-channel HD video installation, 5.1 sound, color; 26:31 min. © Smoking Dogs Films. Courtesy Lisson Gallery


John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015. (installation views and last image still from video). Three-channel HD video installation, 7.1 sound, color; 48:30 min. © Smoking Dogs Films. Courtesy Lisson Gallery


The exhibition is curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator, and Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director. It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog featuring essays by Tina Campt, T.J. Demos, Okwui Enwezor, Aram Moshayedi, Diana Nawi, and Zoe Whitley. 

Images courtesy New Museum. 

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