'John Akomfrah: Five Murmurations' reviewed in Art in America
20 October 2021
No need to beat around the bush: Five Murmurations is the most haunting, wrenching new work of art I’ve seen so far this decade—appropriately so, since its subject is the haunting, wrenching state of the decade so far. In the three-channel video installation, which was on view this month at Lisson Gallery, British-Ghanaian filmmaker John Akomfrah studies the global shutdown and the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd with a cool, cerebral gloom. Without presuming to explain the horrors of recent history, he has given them a shape.
“It felt like there were almost two pandemics,” Akomfrah said recently in an interview for the New York Times—the crucial words being “felt like” and “almost.” Much of Five Murmurations consists of tense, jagged montage, intercutting images of the literal, viral pandemic of 2020 with footage of Floyd’s murder. And this is only the start. The present-day footage gives way to a dizzying, disturbing variety of older images: smeary archival photographs of Black African men posing with white European colonizers; Andrea Mantegna’s quattrocento painting Lamentation of Christ; the famous photograph of Che Guevara’s mutilated corpse. Akomfrah’s subject is the 2020s, but his impressions of recent history are weighted with history, full-stop.
Read the full review by Jackson Arn in Art in America here.