John Akomfrah, the British-Ghanaian artist whose ambitious films and screened installations have tackled colonial legacies, climate change, and immigration, has been selected to represent Britain at the 60th Venice Biennale, set to open in April 2024.
The nomination was announced today by the British Council, which has been responsible for the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale since 1937.
In a statement, Akomfrah called the commission a “huge privilege and an [honor],” adding that “it is without a doubt one of the most exciting opportunities that an artist can be presented with.”
Akomfrah, 65, is widely regarded as one of the most influential video artists of his generation.
Born in Accra, Ghana, in 1957, the artist’s family fled to Britain when he was just four. In 1982, he was one of seven founding artists behind Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC), a group formed with the goal of increasing the representation Black British communities on screen. The collective’s first film, Handsworth Songs, won the BFI John Grierson Award for Best Documentary in 1986.
Since then, Akomfrah has consistently turned to his chosen medium to explore topics that are both timely and universal in scope. Among the highlights are Mnemosyne (2010), a film about the experiences of post-war migrants living in the U.K.; The Unfinished Conversation (2012), a poetic portrait of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall; and (2017), a 62-minute, six-channel video installation that explores the effects of changing climate patterns on human communities and natural ecosystems across the globe.
Next year’s presentation will mark Akomfrah’s third turn at the Biennale, following, most recently, his presentation of the film Four Nocturnes, which was commissioned for the inaugural Ghana Pavilion at the 58th iteration of the show in 2019. The artist’s Vertigo Sea (2015) was also included in the Okwui Enwezor-curated main show in 2015.
Other artists to have represented Britain at the prestigious expo in recent years include Phyllida Barlow, Sarah Lucas, Cathy Wilkes, and Golden Lion winner Sonia Boyce. As with those figures, who were all over the age of 50 when commissioned, it seems the British Council panel of nominators prioritized Akomfrah’s long history of artistic triumphs. Though the list of Akomfrah’s recent accomplishments is impressive too: in 2017, he won the Artes Mundi prize, the U.K.’s biggest award for international art, while just this month, he was knighted as part of the King’s New Year Honours List for 2023.
“John’s inspiring style and narrative has continuously evolved, revealing key ideas and questions about the world we inhabit,” Skinder Hundal, the British Council’s Global Director of Arts and the Commissioner of the British Pavilion, said of the artist’s nomination.
“The quality and contextual depth of his artistry never fails to inspire deep reflection and awe. For the British Council to have such a significant British-Ghanaian artist in Venice is an exhilarating moment.”