Artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah will represent the UK at the Venice Biennale in 2024, the British Council has announced.
Akomfrah, who was honored with a knighthood in the 2023 honors list, is known for his art films and multiscreen 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 in Venice from April to November.
Akomfrah, 65, originally 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. 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 material and news footage.
Akomfrah’s other work includes the three-screen installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), a portrait of the life and work of cultural theorist Stuart Hall; Mnemosyne (2010), which revealed 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, juxtaposing 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 has previously told The Guardian that moving to the UK at the age of four has given him a “moral obligation” to make works that enter the debate on migration and offset the “rhetoric of contagion” that many use to describe the flow of refugees into. Europe.
In 2017, the artist won the Artes Mundi Award, the UK’s largest award for international art. He also previously participated in the 2019 Venice Biennale with his piece Four Nocturnes – which was commissioned for the inaugural Ghana Pavilion and reflected the complex, intertwined relationship between humanity’s destruction of the natural world and destruction of the self.
On accepting the commission from the British Council, Akomfrah said it was a “tremendous privilege and honour” to be asked to represent Britain at the international art exhibition. “It’s arguably one of the most exciting opportunities an artist can be presented with,” he said.
“I see this invitation as a recognition of and a platform for all those I have collaborated with over 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 Britain in the past.
Skinder Hundal, Global Director of Arts at the British Council and Commissioner of the UK Pavilion, said: “With a career spanning four decades, the judges felt that Akomfrah had made a very significant contribution to the British and international contemporary art scene. John’s inspiring style and narrative have continuously developed and revealed key ideas and questions about the world in which we live.
“The quality and contextual depth of his artistry never fails to inspire deep reflection and awe. For the British Council to have such a significant British-Ghanaian artist in Venice is an exciting moment.”