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John Akomfrah in "London"

Visit our Awards page for this film’s honors and recognition.

Since the early 1980s, the groundbreaking filmmaker John Akomfrah has created enormous, multi-channel video installations that blend archival and original footage and audio. His epic works ambitiously connect the global legacies of slavery and colonialism to environmental degradation and his personal biography. While visiting the Tate Britain, Akomfrah recounts his artistic beginnings, from his fascination with the British Romantic painters John Constable and J.M.W. Turner to his co-founding of the Black Audio Film Collective. Shown shooting a new film on location in the state of Louisiana and editing footage in his studio in East London, Akomfrah explains, “I’m more choreographer than creator.” The artist highlights some recent projects—Vertigo Sea, Purple, and Four Nocturnes—and contextualizes the greater forces that have shaped his life and work: his upbringing in Ghana at a time of political unrest, his family’s subsequent immigration to Britain, the hazardous effects of living next to a London power station, and the xenophobic atmosphere of London during Brexit. “Once you’ve understood that you’re a product of things,” the artist says, “you can’t shake off realizing that from across your life.”

More information and credits


Executive Producer: Tina Kukielski. Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director & Producer: Ian Forster. Editor: Morgan Riles. Director of Photography: Andrew Kemp.

Assistant Curator: Danielle Brock. Design & Animation: Momentist, Inc. Composer: Joel Pickard. Additional Art21 Staff: Lauren Barnett, Lolita Fierro, Joe Fusaro, Meghan Garven, Jonathan Munar, and Emma Nordin. Narration: Okema T. Moore.

Additional Photography: Jarred Alterman, Joshua Bagnall, Bryan Chang, Matt Conway, Pau García Laita, Christoph Lerch, Jonnie Lewis, John Marton, and Rafael Salazar Moreno. Assistant Camera: Santi Arcos, Alex Rozerot Kirkwood, Oliver Richardt, Charlie Stoddart, Matt Ward, Yifan Wen, and Ava Wiland. Location Sound: Simon Forrester, Tim Hodge, Sean Millar, Annie Needham, and James Page. Beijing Field Producer: Vicky Du. Production Assistants : Jonathan Batty, Adam Roberts, and Rialda Zukic.

Digital Intermediate: Cut + Measure. Post-Production Producer: Alex Laviola. Colorist: Chris Ramey. Post-Production Sound Services: Konsonant Post. Re-Recording Mixer & Sound Editor: Gisela Fullà-Silvestre. Online & Conform: David Gauff. Additional Animation: Andy Cahill. Assistant Editors: Jasmine Cannon, Jonah Greenstein, and Mengchen Zhang. Descriptive Video Information: Captionmax. Public Relations: Cultural Counsel.
Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Barbara T. Hoffman, Esq.

Artwork Courtesy: John Akomfrah, Phyllida Barlow, © Anish Kapoor. DACS, London / ARS, NY 2020, Christian Marclay, Black Audio Film Collective, Hauser & Wirth, Lisson Gallery, Paula Cooper Gallery, Smoking Dogs Films, and White Cube. Additional Music: “Craft” & “Pandora’s Box” by Christian Marclay; Atavistic Records.

Interns: Shane Daly, Grace Doyle, Eda Li, Daniela Mayer, Jason Mendoza, Nikhil Oza, Anika Rahman, Ana Sanz, Sara Schwartz, Victoria Xu, and Sadie Yanckello.

Archival Materials: BlackBoxGuild; Teri Bloom; British Council; Jacob Burckhardt; © Paula Court; CriticalPast; Paul Crosby; Adrian Gaut; Alexander Gold; Andy Haslam; Intermezzo FIlms / Luc Peter; Pierce Jackson; Lucerne Festival; Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Pond5; SandenWolff, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY; Jared Schiller; Snapchat; © Tate; © The Eva Hesse Estate; The Kitchen Archive, ca. 1971–1999; The Getty Research Institute; Whitechapel Gallery Archive; White Cube; © Whitney Museum of American Art, 2010.

Special Thanks: The Art21 Board of Trustees; Lucy Adams; Ashitey Akomfrah; Anthony Allen; Barlow studio assistants; Alison Burstein; CAFA Art Museum; Anna Cerdà i Callís; Clare Chapman; Coriander Studio; Cultureshock Media; Des Moines Art Center; Susan Doyon; Raena Franklin; Gibbs Farm; Emma Gifford-Mead; Elissa Goldstone; Nora Gomez-Strauss; Lina Gopaul; Melissa Saenz Gordon; Tim Griffin; Louise Hayward; Mackie Healy; Shelley Hirsch; Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival; ICA Boston; Jupiter Artland; Kapoor studio assistants; Esther Knuth; Betsy Lack; David Lawson; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Jon Lowe; Millennium Park, City of Chicago; Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Republic of Ghana; Tessa Morefield; David Moss; Capucine Perrot; Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery; Elizabeth Robert; Royal Academy of Arts; Dread Scott; Somerset House; Tate Britain; Venetia Tate; Times Square Arts; Sophie Treharne Nurse; Venice Biennale; Lucy Wilkinson; Nora Woodin; and Allison Wruble.

Major underwriting for Season 10 of Art in the Twenty-First Century is provided by PBS, National Endowment for the Arts, Lambent Foundation, The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Toby Devan Lewis, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Henri Lambert, Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman, and Sakana Foundation.

Series Creators: Susan Dowling and Susan Sollins.

©2020 Art21, Inc.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah was born in Accra, Ghana, in 1957. A pioneering filmmaker, Akomfrah creates multichannel video installations that critically examine the legacy of colonialism, the Black diaspora, and environmental degradation. Akomfrah weaves together original footage with archival material to create stirring, layered narratives that juxtapose personal and historical memory, past and present, and environmental and human crises.

More from "London"

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Buoyed by London’s history of artistic excellence, four artists draw inspiration from decades of British art while contending with the repercussions of colonialism and xenophobia during a time of massive political upheaval in the country.

Season 10 Educators' Guide

Educators’ Guides provide information about selected artists and themes, questions for classroom discussions, and hands-on activities that provide students with a fundamental understanding of creative and critical thinking processes.