Frieze Talks: John Akomfrah and Zoé Whitley
2 October 2020
Curated by Dr. Nicholas Cullinan (Director, National Portrait Gallery), the Frieze Talks programme features internationally renowned artists in conversation with leading curators. The programme of talks will take place online during Frieze Week 2020, and will feature John Akomfrah, Jordan Casteel, Rashid Johnson and Takashi Murakami among others. See the full programme here.
John Akomfrah will join Dr. Zoé Whitley in conversation on Friday 9 October 12pm EST / 5pm BST.
John Akomfrah (b. 1957) is an artist and filmmaker whose works are characterised by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics and often explores the experiences of migrant diasporas globally. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today. Their first film, Handsworth Songs (1986) explored the events surrounding the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London through a charged combination of archive footage, still photos and newsreel. The film won several international prizes and established a multi-layered visual style that has become a recognisable motif of Akomfrah’s practice. Other works include the three-screen installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), a moving portrait of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s life and work; Peripeteia (2012), an imagined drama visualising the lives of individuals included in two 16th century portraits by Albrecht Dürer and Mnemosyne (2010) which exposes the experience of migrants in the UK, questioning the notion of Britain as a promised land by revealing the realities of economic hardship and casual racism. In 2015, Akomfrah premiered his three-screen film installation Vertigo Sea (2015), which explores what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls ‘the sublime seas’. In 2017, Akomfrah presented his largest film installation to date, Purple (2017), at the Barbican in London, co- commissioned by Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden, TBA21—Academy, The Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon and Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. The six-channel video installation addresses climate change, human communities and the wilderness. On the occasion of his participation at the first Ghana Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, John Akomfrah presented Four Nocturnes (2019), a new three-channel piece that reflects on the complex intertwined relationship between humanity’s destruction of the natural world and our destruction of ourselves.
Dr. Zoé Whitley is the director of Chisenhale Gallery. Previously, she was senior curator at London’s Hayward Gallery at Southbank Centre. In 2019, she curated Cathy Wilkes’ British Council commission in the British Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. Prior to this, she was curator of international art at Tate Modern from 2014 to 2019 and jointly held a brief tenure as curator of contemporary British art at Tate Britain. She also spent 2003 to 2013 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, first as assistant curator of prints and drawings, then as a curator of contemporary programs, specializing in site-specific artist commissions and temporary exhibitions. Named to Apollo Magazine's “40 Under 40” in 2018, Whitley serves on the boards of Gasworks, a non-profit visual art organization and artist studio provider in London; Guest Artists Space Foundation, an artist residency and international collaboration non-profit in Nigeria; and the Decolonising Arts Institute at the University of the Arts London. Originally from the United States, Whitley earned a BA at Swarthmore College, an MA in the history of design at the Royal College of Art, and a PhD at the University of Central Lancashire. She served as a Center panelist in Performance in 2019 and 2018.