|Alma mater||Portsmouth Polytechnic|
John Akomfrah, CBE (born 4 May 1957) is a British artist, writer, film director, screenwriter, theorist and curator of Ghanaian descent, whose "commitment to a radicalism both of politics and of cinematic form finds expression in all his films".
A founder of the Black Audio Film Collective in 1982, he made his début as a director with Handsworth Songs, which examined the fallout from the 1985 Handsworth riots. Handsworth Songs went on to win the Grierson Award for Best Documentary in 1987.
In the words of The Guardian, he "has secured a reputation as one of the UK’s most pioneering film-makers [whose] poetic works have grappled with race, identity and post-colonial attitudes for over three decades."
Early life and education
John Akomfrah was born in Accra, Ghana. His parents were involved with the anti-colonial activism. In an interview with Sukhdev Sandhu, Akomfrah said: "My dad was a member of the cabinet of Kwame Nkrumah's party.... We left Ghana because my mum's life was in danger after the coup of 1966, and my father died in part because of the struggle that led up to the coup." Living in Britain since the age of four, Akomfrah was educated at schools in West London and at Portsmouth Polytechnic, where he graduated in Sociology in 1982.
In 1982, he was one of the founders of the Black Audio Film Collective, which was active until 1998, dedicated towards examining issues of Black British identity through film and media. Handsworth Songs, the first documentary produced by the collective, with Akomfrah as director, focused on racial tensions in Britain in the 1980s. Incorporating archive material and newsreel, and making experimental use of sound, Handsworth Songs won seven international awards, among them the BFI John Grierson Award for Best Documentary.
In 1998, together with Lina Gopaul and David Lawson, his long-term producing partners, Akomfrah co-founded Smoking Dogs Films.
Akomfrah has taught multiple courses at an academic institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University, New York University, Westminster University, Princeton University. A tri-campus three-day event entitled "Cinematic Translations: The Work of John Akomfrah" was held in November 2013 at the University of Toronto, where he was artist-in-residence. A Harvard Film Archive critique of his work states: "Akomfrah has become a cinematic counterpart to such commentators of and contributors to the culture of the Black diaspora as Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Greg Tate and Henry Louis Gates. In doing so, he has continued to mine the audiovisual archive of the 20th century, recontextualizing these images not only by selecting and juxtaposing them but also through the addition of eloquent and allusive text."
Akomfrah has had solo presentations at Bildmuseet in Umeå, Sweden (2015), Broad Art Museum, East Lansing (2014), Tate Britain, London (2013), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2012), and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011).
His 2015 work, Vertigo Sea, is a three-screen film installation that was shown at the 56th Venice Biennale in May 2015. Vertigo Sea premiered in the UK at the Arnolfini in Bristol (16 January – 10 April 2016) coinciding with an exhibition of new and recent work by Akomfrah being shown at the Lisson Gallery.
Purple (2017), a 62-minute, six-screen video installation commissioned for the prominent Curve Gallery space at the Barbican, London, Akomfrah describes as "a response to [the] Anthropocene". A tie-in series of film screenings comprising selections made by Akomfrah was held from October 2017 at the Barbican Cinema. The installation travelled to the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden; the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art; and Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon.
Awards and honours
Akomfrah was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours for services to the film industry. In March 2012, he was awarded the European Cultural Foundation's Princess Margaret Award. In 2013 he was awarded honorary doctorates from University of the Arts London and from Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2014 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Portsmouth University, the reformed polytechnic from which he had graduated in 1982.
In 2017, Akomfrah won the biennial Artes Mundi prize, the UK's biggest award for international art, having been chosen for the award for his "substantial body of outstanding work dealing with issues of migration, racism and religious persecution", including his work Auto Da Fé. Akomfrah said of his winning two-screen video installation, which explores the theme of mass migration over a 400-year period: "I wanted to focus on the fact that many people have to leave because something terrible is happening, it’s not just about leaving for a better life, many people feel they have to leave to have a life at all."
- Handsworth Songs (1986); winner of Grierson Award for Best Documentary, 1987
- Testament (1988)
- Who Needs a Heart (1991)
- Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993)
- The Last Angel of History (1996)
- Memory Room 451 (1996)
- Call of Mist (1998)
- Speak Like a Child (1998)
- Riot (1999)
- The Nine Muses (2010)
- Hauntologies (Carroll/Fletcher gallery, 2012)
- The Stuart Hall Project (2013), relating to the cultural theorist Stuart Hall
- The Unfinished Conversation (2013)
- The March (2013)
- Vertigo Sea (2015)
- Auto Da Fé (2016)
- Untitled (2016)
- Purple (2017)
- "British Film Institute ScreenOnline biography".
- Sukhdev Sandhu, "John Akomfrah: migration and memory",The Guardian, 20 January 2012.
- Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds. (2002). "Akomfrah, John". Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London: Routledge. pp. 18–19.
- The Grierson Trust. Archived 25 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine
- Hannah Ellis-Petersen, "John Akomfrah: 'I haven’t destroyed this country. There's no reason other immigrants would'", The Guardian, 7 January 2016.
- Mark Hudson, "The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah: a beautiful paean to identity", The Telegraph, 15 October 2012.
- Ann Ogidi, "Handsworth Songs (1986)" at BFI ScreenOnline.
- Smoking Dogs Films website. Archived 20 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine
- British Film Institute Board of Governors.
- "Award-winning film director joins Film London", Film London, 9 August 2004.
- "John Akomfrah and Lina Gopaul", Arts at MIT.
- "Cinematic Translations: The Work of John Akomfrah - November 27-29", Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Toronto, Scarborough.
- "John Akomfrah, A Poet in the Archives", Harvard Film Archive.
- "John Akomfrah’s new film ‘Vertigo Sea’ at Venice Biennale", Invisible Dust, 7 May 2015.
- "John Akomfrah", La Biennale di Venezia.
- "John Akomfrah: Vertigo Sea", Arnolfini.
- "John Akomfrah, 22 January – 12 March 2016", Lisson Gallery.
- "John Akomfrah wins £40,000 Artes Mundi prize in Cardiff", BBC News, 26 January 2017.
- "John Akomfrah: ‘Progress can cause profound suffering’", Guardian.
- "John Akomfrah: Purple", Barbican.
- "2019 ICA Watershed: John Akomfrah: Purple".
- "John Akomfrah. Purple".
- "Full list of New Years' Honours" (PDF). BBC News.
- Alexis Akwagyiram, "John Akomfrah: Little known, much decorated film-maker", BBC News, 20 March 2012.
- "How to succeed in the arts – UAL’s high profile honourees share their insights", University of the Arts London, 23 August 2013.
- "Goldsmiths to honour leading figures at annual Presentation Ceremonies" Archived 1 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine, News from Goldsmiths, 13 September 2012.
- "John Akomfrah OBE (DLit)". Archived 23 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
- Sashakay Fairclough, "Prominent Black Film Director Awarded Honorary Degree", The Voice, 9 July 2014.
- "Luminaries in fashion and film recognised", University of Portsmouth, 9 July 2014.
- Hannah Ellis-Peterson, "John Akomfrah wins Artes Mundi prize and attacks UK's intolerance", The Guardian, 26 January 2017.
- Jane Morris, "British artist John Akomfrah wins £40,000 Artes Mundi Prize — The Ghanaian-born film-maker’s work draws on themes like migration, colonialisation and the environment", The Art Newspaper, 27 January 2017.
- "No. 61962". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 2017. p. B8.
- "Artist of the Year", Apollo, 26 November 2018.
- "John Akomfrah – The Unfinished Conversation" at Autograph ABP.
- William Oppon, "The Unfinished Conversation - An Exhibition By John Akomfrah, OBE" Archived 1 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Urban Times, 15 January 2014.