September 19, 2014 to February 1, 2015, the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University
Pioneering filmmaker, director and theorist John Akomfrah (b. 1957) engages with questions of memory and identity to create moving-image works that address the histories of the African diaspora. His early projects with media group Black Audio Film Collective chronicled the emergence of multicultural identities in 1980s Britain, while forming the cornerstone of radical artistic practices that address Western society's anxieties around the legacies of colonialism and empire.
With more than thirty years of experience in production in cinema, television and gallery-based installations, Akomfrah is renowned for pushing the boundaries of the documentary form and innovating the film essay format through a dynamic use of archival and staged footage with multilayered voiceovers. He has exhibited widely at international museums and large-scale exhibitions, as well as in numerous film festivals. In 2012, Akomfrah debuted 'The Unfinished Conversation' (a multiscreen video installation) and 'The Stuart Hall Project' (a documentary on the life and work of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall).
The first substantial presentation of his recent work at the US museum, 'John Akomfrah: Imaginary Possessions' presents three distinct films and a new commission that deftly excavate the fragmented identities of colonial subjects while challenging usual cinematic representation. 'Perepteia' (2012) unearths the lost histories of black subjects depicted in Western artworks, as read through two drawings by German painter Albrecht Dürer. 'Psyche' (2012) combines fragments from notable costume dramas that have influenced Akomfrah to pay homage to the genre, while revealing its structural underpinnings. 'Transfigured Night' (2013) speaks to the fleeting promises and ensuing disappointments of the post-colonial state by exploring the birth of independent African nations after World War II. In its inventive staging of works across two galleries, this exhibition allows the viewer to watch and experience cinema in different ways, emphasizing image and narrative.
'John Akomfrah: Imaginary Possessions' was curated by Yesomi Umolu, Assistant Curator at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University (MSU). Support for this exhibition was provided by the Broad MSU's general exhibitions fund, with additional funding support from the British Council.