August 3, 2022
Hirshhorn Presents “Purple,” a Major Six-Channel Video Work by London-Based Artist John Akomfrah
Recently Acquired 2017 Artwork Addresses Climate Change in Disappearing Global Landscapes and Human Communities
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will present “John Akomfrah: Purple”, featuring the artist’s largest ever video installation starting Nov. 23. The exhibition will bring Akomfrah’s 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.
“We are proud to debut this masterful recent acquisition to audiences in the nation’s capital,” said Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. “John Akomfrah’s poetic narrative is a powerful reminder that our personal relationship and our environment is also global. Installing “Purple” at the Hirshhorn, on the National Mall, heightens the artwork’s potential to inspire conversations among and between citizens and leadership.”
“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.
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. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, formed in London in 1982, whose incisive documentaries on racial issues in the United Kingdom are widely seen as seminal contributions to film history.
“I want people to be aware of the ways in which their lives are touched by things unseen and bear witness to these creeping environmental disasters and emergencies,” Akomfrah said. “I think the there is a special significance of the Hirshhorn’s proximity to the major center of power on our planet—the spaces in which key decisions need to be made in environmental policy in the United States—and I hope the questions that Purple raises about the environmental crisis we are living through today are ones that can be understood and appreciated by all without partisanship.”
“John Akomfrah has a singular way of addressing weighty philosophical and social issues while generating a powerful emotional pull that absorbs you completely,” Isgro said. “With its immersive visuals and sound, Purple gives viewers an access point into the conversation around climate change, which can sometimes feel overwhelming.”
About John Akomfrah R.A.
Pioneering artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah R.A. (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.
About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all. The Hirshhorn Museum is open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. The outdoor Sculpture Garden is open daily 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Image credit: John Akomfrah, “Purple” (2017). Six channel HD color video installation with 15.1 surround sound, dimensions variable; 62 minutes (AKOM17005). © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery.