John Akomfrah’s singular body of work in visual art and film has captured the imagination of viewers, since his initial exploratory work with the Black Audio Film Collective, which he co-founded in the early 1980s. In 1986, Akomfrah’s directorial debut, Handsworth Songs (1986), a poetic-essay film—part of the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection—won the Grierson Award, one of the most prestigious prizes in documentary film.
Since that time, the artist has continued his work through and with Smoking Dogs Films, Black Audio Film Collective artists and producers, Lina Gopaul and David Lawson. Their first presentation in Sharjah was for Sharjah Biennial 11: Re:emerge Towards a New Cultural Cartography, which included a three-channel video work, The Unfinished Conversation (2013)—a lyrical portrait of British Black history anchored around the work and life of the late British-Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall. In 2015, the Foundation was one of the co-commissioning bodies of Vertigo Sea, which was presented in Okwui Enwezor’s Venice Biennale All the World’s Futures, before being acquired for the Foundation’s Collection. Akomfrah’s contribution to the inaugural Ghana Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, The Elephant in the Room – Four Nocturnes (2019), was also co-commissioned by the Foundation and is held in its Collection.
For Mimesis: African Soldier, Akomfrah’s signature approach takes root in Sharjah, where part of the work was filmed. The result, a historical montage film projected across three screens that recalls the lives of the millions of African women and men whose acts of valour and sacrifice during World War I are obscured in the official narrative. Through choreographed scenes, a reanimated version of history materialises, one that is tranquilly commemorative. The colonial campaigns of countries such as Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany in the African continent are reified here, from abstraction into the embodied figures on-screen.
Making visible the histories that have been omitted from record has been a standing facet in the artist’s practice. With Mimesis: African Soldier, Akomfrah breathes new life into history, giving the black body form and a life that has been concealed from official memory.
Mimesis: African Soldier is part of the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection.
Mimesis: African Soldier was co-commissioned by New Art Exchange, Nottingham; Smoking Dogs Films; and 14-18 Now, with additional production support from Sharjah Art Foundation.
This presentation at Al Hamriyah Studios coincides with the exhibition, Gerald Annan-Forson: Revolution and Image-making in Post-Colonial Ghana (1979–1985), a collaborative exhibition with The Africa Institute, Sharjah.
John Akomfrah delves into themes of memory, identity, postcolonialism, temporality and the politics of aesthetics through his experimentations with the moving image.