John Akomfrah is a widely respected artist and filmmaker, whose works are characterised by their investigations into memory, postcolonialism, 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 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 hardship experienced by migrants in the UK.
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. Akomfrah presented his largest film installation to date, Purple, in 2017 at the Barbican in London, co-commissioned by Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden, TBA21—Academy, The Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon and Garage Centre for Contemporary Art, Moscow. The six-channel video installation addresses climate change, human communities and the wilderness. More recently, Akomfrah debuted his work Mimesis: African Soldier (2018) at the Imperial War Museum in London, commissioned by 1418 Now. The piece explores the often overlooked role of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across continental Africa in the First World War and features rarely seen archive material. In May 2019, Akomfrah participated in the inaugural, critically acclaimed Ghana Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, with his latest work Four Nocturnes.
In 2017 Akomfrah was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to art and film making in The Queen’s Birthday Honours. He was awarded a Knighthood (Knight Bachelor) for services to the Arts in The King’s New Year Honours, 2023.
Born: 1957 in Accra
Elected RA: 30 May 2019
Preferred media: Film making and Photography