John Akomfrah to represent Britain at Venice Biennale

The Ghanaian-born artist is known for his critiques on racial politics

John Akomfrah in his London studio with a poster for the film Handsworth Songs, made with the Black Audio Film Collective. Photo: British Council
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Ghanaian-born artist John Akomfrah has been chosen by the British Council to represent the UK at next year's Venice Biennale.

Akomfrah is known for his critiques on racial politics in the UK, both through Black Audio Film Collective, the group that he co-founded in 1982, and later through his solo practice.

“It is a huge privilege and an honour to be asked to represent the UK at the 60th Venice Biennale,” he said. “I’m grateful to be given a moment to explore the complex history and significance of this institution and the nation it represents.”

Akomfrah’s art unravels the complexities of postcolonial Britain, in particular Handsworth Songs (1986), Black Audio Film Collective’s debut work. The film responds to the race riots of 1985 in Birmingham and London through inventive devices such as a fracturing of the narrative, discordant music and a mix of types of footage.

An homage to the British-Jamaican postcolonial thinker Stuart Hall, The Unfinished Conversation (2012) uses overlapping archival footage across three screens to recreate a life story. The three-channel installation Four Nocturnes (2019) ties the history of colonialism in Africa with the rhetoric of contemporary nature documentaries.

John Akomfrah's Four Nocturnes, 2019. Photo: John Akomfrah

In the 1980s and 1990s, together with David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, Akomfrah's co-founders at Black Audio Film Collective, the group positioned themselves outside the mainstream of British contemporary art. Instead they aligned themselves with the worlds of music and film.

Their exploration of racial politics also differentiated them from the Young British Artists, whose work dominated the 1990s. Later, Akomfrah’s penchant for theatricality and high-definition video put him aesthetically at odds with currents of British contemporary art that favoured a more conceptual style.

But the art world caught up and the decade from 2010 was a productive one. Akomfrah began showing with the renowned gallery Lisson. He won the prestigious Artes Mundi Prize in 2017 and participated in the Ghana Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with Four Nocturnes in 2019.

Support for his work has also come from beyond the UK. The Sharjah Art Foundation was a co-commissioner of Four Nocturnes, he has shown works at the Sharjah Biennial and he has participated in its March Meetings. Akomfrah will also be part of next month's Sharjah Biennial, curated by Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi.

Akomfrah said about the Venice Biennale commission: “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.”

Scroll through images below of Arab representation at Venice Biennale 2022

Updated: January 24, 2023, 2:03 PM