John Akomfrah in “London” & “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle” Yinka Shonibare CBE (RA)
art21, Online, United States14 Oct 2020 - 14 Nov 2022
The only series on television in the U.S. to focus exclusively on contemporary visual art and artists, Art in the Twenty-First Century is a Peabody Award-winning biennial program that allows viewers to observe the artists at work, watch as they transform inspiration into art, and hear how they struggle with both the physical and visual challenges of achieving their visions.
John Akomfrah in “London”
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.”
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.
“Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle” Yinka Shonibare CBE (RA)
Yinka Shonibare CBE (RA) discusses the theatricality and sense of wonder inherent in his public sculpture Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, installed on the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.
Situated across from Nelson’s Column, a monument erected to honor Admiral Lord Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars, the brightly-colored sails of Shonibare’s boat reference the complex heritage of British colonialism and its multicultural present.
“My work is a way of somehow thinking about ‘why,'” said Shonibare. “Why are the people of African origin in Europe and America…why do they have such a raw deal?”
Known for using batik in costumed dioramas that explore race and colonialism, Yinka Shonibare CBE (RA) also employs painting, sculpture, photography, and film in work that disrupts and challenges our notions of cultural identity. Taking on the honorific CBE (and previously MBE) as part of his name in everyday use, Shonibare plays with the ambiguities and contradictions of his attitude toward the Establishment and its legacies of colonialism and class. In multimedia projects that reveal his passion for art history, literature, and philosophy, Shonibare provides a critical tour of Western civilization and its achievements and failures.