Artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah will represent the UK at the Venice Biennale in 2024, the British Council has announced.
Honored with a knighthood in the 2023 honors list, Akomfrah is known for his art films and multi-screen video installations that explore issues such as racial injustice, diasporic identities, migration and climate collapse. Next year, the Ghanaian-born artist’s work will fill the British Pavilion at Venice from April to November.
Akomfrah (65) initially rose to prominence in the early 1980s as a founder of the Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC), one of the first groups to challenge how the black British community was represented on screen and in the media. The BAFC’s first film, Handsworth Songs, explored the events surrounding the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London through a combination of archive footage, stills, newly shot footage and newsreel.
Akomfrah’s other work includes the three-screen installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), a portrait of cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s life and work; Mnemosyne (2010), which exposed the economic hardship and casual racism faced by migrants in the UK; Vertigo Sea (2015), a three-screen installation that focused on the disorder and cruelty of the whaling industry and juxtaposed it with scenes of generations of migrants making epic ocean crossings in search of a better life; and Purple (2017), his largest film installation to date, which addressed the climate crisis.
He previously told the Guardian that moving to the UK at the age of four gave him a “moral obligation” to make works that engage with the debate on migration and counter the “rhetoric of contamination” used by many used to describe the flow of refugees. Europe.
In 2017, the artist won the Artes Mundi Prize, the UK’s largest award for international art. He also previously participated in the 2019 Venice Biennale with his piece Four Nocturnes – commissioned for the first Ghana pavilion and reflecting the complex, intertwined relationship between humanity’s destruction of the natural world and destruction of the self.
Akomfrah accepted the commission from the British Council and said it was a “great privilege and honour” to be asked to represent the UK at the international art exhibition. “This is without a doubt one of the most exciting opportunities an artist can be offered,” he said.
“I see this invitation as recognition of and a platform for everyone I’ve worked with over the decades, and who continue to make my work possible. I am grateful to have a moment to explore the complex history and significance of this institution and the nation it represents, as well as its architectural home in Venice – with all the stories it has told and will continue to tell.”
The British Council has been responsible for the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale since 1937. Artists including recent Golden Lion winner Sonia Boyce, Tracey Emin, Phyllida Barlow and Steve McQueen have all represented the UK in the past.
Skinder Hundal, Global Director of Art at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion, said: “With a career spanning four decades, the judges felt that Akomfrah has made a very important contribution to the British and international contemporary art scene has. John’s inspiring style and narrative are constantly evolving, revealing key ideas and questions about the world we live in.
“The quality and contextual depth of his artistry never fails to evoke deep reflection and awe. For the British Council to have such an important British-Ghanaian artist in Venice is an exciting moment.”