.John Akomfrah’s exhibition “Future History” has been on display at the Seattle Art Museum since March 5, 2020. The museum had to close its doors. However, we would like to present the exhibition to you in the hope that the reopening date will allow you to get to know this little-known artist better.

To find out more about him: his production company Smoking dog , his life and his work.

John Akomfrah, Future History:

At the opening to John Akomfrah’s “Future History”, now on show at Seattle Art Museum, a wooden statue of a female figure stands with arms raised toward the sky. She is in a quest to connect with higher powers. As if some god above was our only hope. This statue from the Dogon people in Mali is 500 years old. It is the first exhibition exclusively dedicated to the medium of video and includes three large scale installations.

A British filmmaker, born in Ghana, Akomfrah’s work focuses on the fluidity of time-how the past, present and future live together and overlap. Mixing archival images, footage from the natural world, and staged pieces with actors in period costume, he builds stories that focuses on the ocean as an environmental, cultural, and historical force, connecting literature and poetry, the history of slavery, and contemporary issues of migration and climate crisis.

John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015

Future History contain three videos: 

Vertigo Sea (2015). A three-channel work shown in a massive space, which brings the viewers into an immersive experience. The quality of the videos is astonishing, and one is drawn into the images of sea, waves, whales, Antarctica. Those videos are essays, with profound depth and literary references from Herman Melville to Heathcote William. The artist puts images together of past events from different locations that happened at the same time to bring a conversation and generate insight from the past into the future. Haunting BBC archival footage of migrating whales is coupled with video of their slaughter. 

John Akomfrah, The Last Angel of History

The Last Angel of History (1995). Filmed at the beginning of the internet, this piece is a hybrid of narrative and documentary with jump cut interviews and archival footage that anticipates the breadth and randomness of the digital age. With George Clinton, SunRa, DJ Spooky, Octavia Butler…

Tropikos (2016). This piece contains elaborately-staged scenes of displacement focused on the encounter between the British and the People of Africa in the 16th century at the dawn of the slave trade. Passages from Shakespear’s The Tempest and John Milton’s Paradise Lost are read and these words echo in the dramatic images/moments of the piece.

John Akomfrah, Tropikos

The small store located on the same floor has been transformed into a viewing gallery and is showing: 

A Herring Opera (2017). Work by Ellie Schmidt, visual artist and commercial fisherwoman living in Sitka, Alaska. A video showing the complicated but beautiful flurry of spring activity when herrings arrive in Sitka to spawn.

In the same room, a wall is dedicated to advice and suggestions on how to live in a time of climate crisis. Recommended for everyone (and certainly teenagers) who feels overwhelmed by our uncertain time.

Claire