John Akomfrah at his London studio, 2016. Photographer: Jack Hems. Courtesy of Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery. © Smoking Dogs Films


John Akomfrah delves into themes of memory, identity, postcolonialism, temporality and the politics of aesthetics through his experimentations with the moving image. In the 1980s, alongside fellow Black British multimedia artists, with whom he cofounded the Black Audio Film Collective, Akomfrah began to push the boundaries of the cinematic form to explore radical ways of understanding history. His keen insight into the complexities of Black migrant life continuously challenges established norms of filmmaking. The investigations he conducts into sociopolitical events give power to his multisensory, audio-visual works, which demand a reconsideration of multiple critical theories at the intersection of ethics, aesthetics and politics.

Akomfrah’s work has been screened and exhibited at numerous institutions, including Remai Modern (2022); Towner Eastbourne Comemporary Art Museum, UK (2021); Lisson Gallery, London (2021); Seattle Art Museum (2020); New Art Exchange, Nottingham, UK (2019); BALTIC, Gateshead, UK (2019); ICA Boston, USA (2019); Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon (2018); Imperial War Museum, London (2018); New Museum, New York (2018); Thyssen-Bornemisza National Collection, Madrid (2018); Nasher Museum at Duke University, Durham, USA (2018); Bildmuseet, Umeå University, Sweden (2015, 2018); Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (2017); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017); Barbican, London (2017); Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2017); Triennale di Milano (2017); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2017, 2011); University of New South Wales, Paddington, Australia (2016); Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2016); Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen (2016); STUK Kunstcentrum, Leuven, Belgium (2016); Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (2007, 2016); 56th Venice Biennale (2015); Sharjah Biennial 11 (2013); Taipei Biennial (2012); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2012); Liverpool Biennial (2012); Serpentine Gallery, London (2010); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2005); and documenta 11, Kassel (2002).

Alongside artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul) he is a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective (1982–1998) and its offshoot, the film and television production company Smoking Dogs Films (1998–present).

Akomfrah has received several awards and honours, including the British Film Institute’s John Grierson Award for Documentary (1987). In 2017, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 2023 was appointed a Knighthood.

Born in 1957 in Accra, Ghana, Akomfrah lives and works in London.

SAF participation:
Sharjah Biennial 11 and 15 (2013, 2023)
March Meeting 2018 and 2022