John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015, Three channel HD colour video installation, 7.1 sound, 48 minutes 30 seconds © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery

John Akomfrah

February 21 – June 21, 2020

The filmmaker and screenwriter John Akomfrah’s atmospheric films probe the structure of memory, the diasporic experiences of migrants, and the historical, social, and political roots of postcolonialism. A founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective (1982–1998), he continues to work with his long-term creative partners David Lawson and Lina Gopaul. Early on in his career, he established the multifaceted visual style of his filmic essays, for which he combines archival material from different periods of history, writings from literary and classical sources, and newly shot sequences in distinctive and poetic montages. His editing consistently defies monolithic narratives and historical chronology. Many of the artist’s immersive video installations are multichannel visual compositions, unfolding contrasts and dialogues between image and sound to explore the implications of various junctures and stories.

At the Secession, John Akomfrah presents three film installations whose themes complement one another: the three-channel projection Vertigo Sea (2015) and the two single-channel pieces Peripeteia (2012) and Mnemosyne (2010). A recurrent motif in his art that connects all three works on film is water, which acts as a reservoir of recollections; in the immensity of the ocean, it also marks the scene of the colonial conquests and the transatlantic slave trade as well as contemporary migrant flows.


John Akomfrah was born in Accra, Ghana, in 1957 and lives in London.