John Akomfrah RA To Represent GB At 60th Venice Biennale

John Akomfrah RA

The artist and filmmaker Sir John Akomfrah RA will is to represent Great Britain at the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2024, the British Council has announced.

“John Akomfrah is one of the most outstanding artist filmmakers working today, so it’s exciting to see him selected for the British Pavilion 2024. In his moving image works, Akomfrah poetically layers fictious and factual narratives that compellingly invite us to embrace the complex realities of migrant diasporas. Akomfrah is a truly global thinker. Imaginatively addressing some of our most pressing existential concerns, his work will captivate viewers at the Venice Biennale.”

This is one of the most exciting opportunities that an artist can be presented with – JA

Akomfrah, who was recently honoured with a knighthood in the 2023 UK Honours list, is known for his art films and multi-screen video installations, which explore major issues including racial injustice, colonial legacies, diasporic identities, migration and climate change.

The London-based artist initially came to prominence in the early 1980s as part of the Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC), a group of seven artists founded in 1982.The BAFC’s first film was Handsworth Songs (1986) which explored the events around the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London. In recent years, his multichannel video works have evolved into ambitious, multi-screen installations shown in galleries and museums around the world. In 2017, he won the Artes Mundi prize, the UK’s biggest award for international art. He has previously participated in the 58thInternational Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia with his piece Four Nocturnes, commissioned for the inaugural Ghana Pavilion in 2019.

On accepting the British Council commission, John Akomfrah commented: “It is a huge privilege and an honour to be asked to represent the UK at the 60th Venice Biennale – it is without a doubt one of the most exciting opportunities that an artist can be presented with. I see this invitation as recognition of, and a platform for all those I have collaborated with over the decades, and who continue to make my work possible. I’m grateful to be given a moment to explore the complex history and significance of this institution and the nation it represents, as well as its architectural home in Venice – with all the stories it has told and will continue to.”

Skinder Hundal, Global Director of Arts at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion, said: “The British Council is thrilled to announce that John Akomfrah has been commissioned to represent the UK at the Biennale Arte 2024.

“With a career spanning four decades, the judges felt that Akomfrah had made a very significant contribution to the UK and international contemporary arts scene. John’s inspiring style and narrative has continuously evolved, revealing key ideas and questions about the world we inhabit. The quality and contextual depth of his artistry never fails to inspire deep reflection and awe. For the British Council to have such a significant British-Ghanaian artist in Venice is an exhilarating moment.”

Past British artists have included Golden Lion winner Sonia Boyce, Tracey Emin, Phyllida Barlow and Steve McQueen.

The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK’s artists, architects, designers and curators. These International Exhibitions, and the British Council’s Venice Fellowships initiative introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a major platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture.

Later this year, the British Council will appoint an Associate Curator to work alongside John Akomfrah and the British Council team to develop the exhibition. This post will be generously supported  Shane Akeroyd and offers mid-career curators a unique professional opportunity to work with a leading British artist on a global platform.

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 experiences of migrant diasporas globally. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today. Their first film, Handsworth Songs (1986) explored events surrounding the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London through a charged combination of archive footage, still photos, newly shot material 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 experiences 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), which 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. In 2017, Akomfrah presented his largest film installation to date, Purple (2017), at the Barbican in London. The six-channel video installation addresses climate change, human communities and wilderness. More recently, Akomfrah debuted Precarity (2017) at Prospect 4 New Orleans, following the life of forgotten New Orleans jazz trumpeter Charles ‘Buddy’ Bolden. In 2018, Akomfrah participated in the UK wide World War One arts programme 14-18 Now, with his multiscreen installation Mimesis: African Soldier (2018), which commemorated African and colonial participants who fought, served and perished during The Great War. In 2019, on the occasion of his participation at the first Ghana Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, John Akomfrah presented Four Nocturnes (2019), a three-channel piece that reflects on the complex intertwined relationship between humanity’s destruction of the natural world and our destruction of ourselves.

Akomfrah (born 1957) lives and works in London. His solo exhibition include Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., USA (2022); Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham, UK (2022); E-WERK, Freiburg, Germany (2022); Remai Modern, Saskatoon, Canada (2022); Towner Eastbourne, Eastbourne, UK (2021); Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, Spain (2021); Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla, Spain (2020); Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, USA (2020); Secession, Vienna, Austria (2020); BALTIC, Gateshead, UK (2019); ICA Boston, MA, USA (2019); Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon, Portugal (2018); New Museum, New York, NY, USA (2018); Bildmuseet, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden (2015, 2018); SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA, USA (2018); Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain (2018); Barbican, London, UK (2017); Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, UK (2017); Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, São Paulo, Brazil (2017); Perth International Arts Festival, John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University, Perth, Australia (2017); The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia (2017); Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch, New Zealand (2016); Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2016); Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen, Denmark (2016); STUK Kunstcentrum, Leuven, Belgium (2016);  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 includes: ‘Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present’, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (2023); ‘Global Ghana’, The Africa Institute, Sharjah, UAE and Accra, Ghana (2022); ‘Fault Lines’, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, USA (2022); ‘Posteriority’, Museum of Contemporary Art Busan, Busan, South Korea (2021); ‘Family – Visions of a shared humanity’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2021); ‘Am I Human To You?’, Art Museum KUBE, Alesund, Norway (2021); ‘Affect Machine: Self-healing in the Post-Capitalist Era’, Taipaei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (2021); ‘Terminal’, City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand (2020); Ghana Pavilion,at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia Venice, Italy (2019); ‘Strange Days: Memories of the Future’, New Museum x The Store, London, UK (2018); ‘Histórias Afro-Atlânticas’, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, São Paulo, Brazil (2018); ‘From where I stand, my eye will send a light to you in the North’, Te Tuhi Museum, Auckland, New Zealand (2018); Prospect 4, New Orleans, LA, USA (2017); ‘Restless Earth’, La Triennale di Milano, Milan, Italy (2017); ‘Unfinished Conversations’, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA (2017); ‘British Art Show 8’ (2015-17); ‘All the World’s Futures’,56th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, (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). He was awarded the Artes Mundi Prize in 2017. He was awarded a Knighthood for services to the Arts in the 2023 New Year Honours.

John Akomfrah’s British Council Commission for the British Pavilion at the Biennale Arte Venice will run from 20 April – 24 November 2024.

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