John Akomfrah: Purple

“John Akomfrah: Purple” introduces the artist’s largest ever video installation, an immersive six-channel work, to Washington D.C. for the first time.  

An enveloping, hour-long symphony of image and sound, “Purple” (2017) weaves together original film with archival footage against a hypnotic score to address themes related to climate change. Surveying a variety of disappearing landscapes, including parts of Alaska, Greenland, the Tahitian Peninsula and the South Pacific’s volcanic Marquesas Islands, Akomfrah conveys the interconnected relationship between the built and natural worlds in the Anthropocene. His striking images of these vulnerable environments mingle with historical recordings of coal mines, polluted lakes and factory labor, set against a resonant soundtrack of original music, archival recordings and spoken word. These elements come together to form a moving meditation on the impact of human progress on the Earth.  
 
Akomfrah is a London-based artist and filmmaker whose works are characterized by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality, and aesthetics. His works often explore the experiences of migrant diasporas globally.  

“Purple” plays across six large screens arranged in an arc, perfectly mirroring the Hirshhorn’s curved architecture. Carpet in a deep shade of purple—the color of mourning in Ghana, Akomfrah’s country of origin—blankets the floors and walls of the exhibition space, lending an inviting if somber mood and reminding viewers of the losses brought about by environmental devastation.  
 
Purple was co-acquired by the Hirshhorn and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in 2021. “John Akomfrah: Purple” is curated by Marina Isgro, associate curator of media and performance art who guided the acquisition of this time-based work.  

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About the ARTIST

Pioneering artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah CBE (b. 1957) is a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective (1982–1998) and its offshoot, the film and television production company Smoking Dogs Films (1998–present). Akomfrah lives and works in London. His work has been shown in museums and exhibitions around the world including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The New Museum, New York; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Serpentine Gallery, London; Tate Britain, London; Southbank Centre, London; Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden; and the 56th Venice Biennale. 

John Akomfrah at his London studio, 2016
© Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery. Photography by Jack Hems.


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