The CAS acquires an evocative photograph by John Akomfrah for the Mead Art Gallery, University of Warwick Art Collection

28 April 2020 By
John Akomfrah, Untitled (2016). Image courtesy of the artist.
John Akomfrah, Untitled (2016). Image courtesy of the artist.

The Contemporary Art Society has acquired a photographic print by John Akomfrah for the Mead Art Gallery, University of Warwick Art Collection. John Akomfrah is an acclaimed filmmaker and artist known for his deeply moving works which reflect on diaspora, colonialism, migration and identity. He was a founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective in 1982, in collaboration with seven fellow artists, and had his directorial debut with the film Handsworth Songs,1986 about the 1985 Handsworth Riots. The collective created work that centred on the experiences of diasporic communities living in Britain amongst racial tension and political strife.  

Untitled, 2016 is photograph inspired by Akomfrah’s dual screen film Auto da Fé, 2016 which translates to ‘Act of Faith’. The film follows a series of eight historical migrations over the last 400 years. It begins with the 1654 migration of Sephardic Jews fleeing Catholic Brazil to Barbados. The film spans from the 17th century to the present day, depicting the religious persecution and migration of populations from Hombori, Mali, and Mosul, Iraq. Like the film, the photograph employs costumes and sets to create the aesthetic of a period drama to present historical and contemporary cases of displacement and the continuation of religion as a cause of global migration. The location is kept deliberately anonymous as the story of displacement is not confined to a particular region 

This image has a theatrical quality – the eye is drawn to the still, centred pose of the young woman who stands on a solid concrete beam, surrounded by devastation. Her formal costume evokes the 1950s, but the devastation is timeless and universal. Not seeing her expression creates a sense of ambiguity.  

In 2015, the Mead Gallery showed Akomfrah’s film, The Unfinished Conversation2012 as part of a solo exhibition. The acquisition of this photograph resonates with this earlier film and continues the exploration of migration in the twentieth century and Coventry’s history as a home to migrants.  

John Akomfrah (b. 1957, Accra, Ghana) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions New Art Exchange, Nottingham; BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (both 2019); New Museum, New York (2018). Recent group shows include Lahore Biennale, Lahore (2020); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2019); A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town (2019).