Lisson Gallery

The Guardian: Interview with John Akomfrah and five-star review of the artist's British Pavilion commission for the 60th Biennale di Venezia

16 April 2024

Adrian Searle reviews John Akomfrah's Listening All Night To the Rain:

Trucks pass by spewing clouds of insecticide that fumigate a poor neighbourhood. A small child, stoic and resigned, gets the treatment too. A carriage clock and an old watch drown on a riverbed, along with old master drawings and paintings distorted by the rills in the stream, and avuncular 1970s TV ecologist David Bellamy explains global warming in some old degraded footage. A container ship founders, its cargo shifting. Sound and image do all the work in John Akomfrah’s Listening All Night to the Rain, which fills the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale. I was there two hours and still feel I’ve only seen snatches, the story constantly slipping away from me and leading me on, via continual swerves and jumps and shifts, from moment to moment, screen to screen and room to room. Overwhelmed, I’m left gasping.

As soon as the eye settles on one thing, we are swept away again. A man sleeps beside pictures of boy soldiers. One of them once might have been him. Jellyfish rise through water in green light, and a white woman in pearls and gloves waves from a car at dutiful crowds of black faces. A man waits at a lonely bus stop in the Scottish highlands beside a road sign warning of otters crossing. How do we go from here to images of Patrice Lumumba, first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before his assassination? A waving placard tells us that colonialists are doomed.

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Charlotte Higgins interviews John Akomfrah on his British Pavilion commission:

Britain’s national pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the world’s largest and most prominent art event, begins with video of delicate Holbein drawings from the Tudor court being washed over by the eddies of a stream and ends with the death of a British-Nigerian man, David Oluwale, who drowned in a Yorkshire river after being beaten by local police in 1969.

Along the way, in filmmaker Sir John Akomfrah’s exhibition, comes a sumptuously told visual and auditory story of migration and colonialism, held together by the image of flowing water. It culminates in images of the arrival in Britain of the Windrush generation – those who migrated from the Caribbean to the UK in the years after the second world war, often to work in British public services.

When the Guardian revealed in 2018 that many elderly former immigrants from the Caribbean were being prevented from accessing healthcare in the UK, or threatened with deportation, Akomfrah said, referring to the Windrush scandal: “The minute you assume something’s resolved, that’s when that’s when it most bites you. [It] absolutely shocked me; I really thought we were beyond that very obvious, slightly punitive, slightly provincial take on Britishness as just whiteness.”

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'John Akomfrah: Listening All Night to the Rain' was commissioned by the British Council for the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 2024.

The Guardian: Interview with John Akomfrah and five-star review of the artist's British Pavilion commission for the 60th Biennale di Venezia
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