British artist John Akomfrah has been chosen from a shortlist of 6 of the world’s most important artists to win the UK’s leading prize for international contemporary art, Artes Mundi 7.
Ken Skates AM, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, announced John Akomfrah as the winner of the biennial award, with a prize sum of £40,000, at a ceremony held at National Museum Cardiff.
John Akomfrah’s work often explores the global diaspora, history, memory, colonialism and its legacy through lens-based media. The range of single and multiscreen films allows us to reconsider the ways in which we think about both personal and collective histories, the grand narratives of our times, across nation states and continents. His work has often given voice to underrepresented communities and their universal stories told through the creation of sublime imagery, and evocative and immersive soundtracks.
In Auto Da Fé (2016) Akomfrah specifically uses the aesthetics of a period drama to consider the historical and contemporary causes of migration; in this work he focuses on religious persecution as a major cause of global displacement. The subtle historical references combined with its sumptuous costumes, locations and sets, allude to the reality of migration and persecution that has taken place throughout the centuries.
The film brings together 8 interconnected mass migrations which have taken place during the past 400 years beginning with the little known 1654 fleeing of Sephardic Jews from Catholic Brazil to Barbados. Auto Da Fé then continues to reveal many more examples of displacement throughout history and in the present day for example migrations from Hombori, Mali and Mosul, Iraq. The landscape in which this work was filmed is deliberately ambiguous in an attempt to reflect the universal and ongoing nature of these stories. As in other recent works such as Tropikos (2016) and Vertigo Sea (2015) the ocean plays an important role – it is an intermediate zone between the past and present, local and global and holds the memories of all those individual and collective journeys.
The other artists nominated for Artes Mundi 7 were: Neïl Beloufa, Amy Franceschini/Futurefarmers, Lamia Joreige, Nástio Mosquito and Bedwyr Willams.
Elise Atangana, Independent curator based in Paris and Cameroon and Artes Mundi 6 Judge.
Alistair Hudson, Director of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
Marie Muracciole, Director of the Beirut Art Centre
Ann Jones, Curator, Arts Council Collection.
Phil Collins, artist.
Elvira Dyangani Ose, Lecturer, Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths; Independent Curator; Member of the Thought Council, Fondazione Prada.
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Writer, Art Historian and Curator.
Nick Aikens, Curator, Van Abbemuseum.
Oliver Basciano, Editor (International) at ArtReview and ArtReview Asia.
More on Artes Mundi website.