John Akomfrah: Tropiko

John Akomfrah: Tropiko

Tropiko a 2016 film by John Akomfrah, which examines the original encounter between European explorers and the people of Africa in the 16th century is currently on view at the Perez Art Museum, Miami.

This large-scale video installation features series of still, silent scenes that intermix characters and objects from African and European contexts. These transpositions suggests the inseparability of the coloniser and the colonised.

Tropiko was filmed in the Tamar Valley and Plymouth, England—a location with significant, if often forgotten, ties to the slave industry: it is where the first British slaving excursion set sail for Africa. The region and its waterways would become England’s primary hub for the slave trade, serving as the point of departure for numerous major expeditions and as the base for the industry’s bureaucratic functions.

Tropikos unfolds as a series of rich tableaux vivants—still, silent scenes—that intermix characters and objects from African and European contexts. These transpositions suggest the inseparability of colonizer and colonized, while reminding us of the extent to which the prosperity and power of Western centers hinged on the violent subjugation of non-Western peoples. The film’s voiceovers are drawn from the writings of various historical European seafarers, as well as passages from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. These interwoven texts, juxtaposed with the lavishly depicted inversion of cultures and peoples, inject the film with a hallucinatory quality, offering a hyper real waking dream of the 1500s.

John Akomfrah, born 1957 in Accra, Ghana is a highly esteemed artist, filmmaker, theorist, and curator, as well as a cofounder of the Black Audio Film Collective—an influential association that focused on examining black British identity through film and media. He has exhibited at venues such as Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen; STUK Kunstencentrum, Leuven, Belgium and Arnolfini, Bristol, United Kingdom; Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Tate Britain, London. In 2008, Akomfrah was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). He holds honorary doctorates from University of the Arts, London; Portsmouth University; and Goldsmiths, University of London. He lives and works in London.

The exhibition opened on February 24 and runs till August 27, 2017.

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