We are pleased to announce that Tropikos, John Akomfrah’s stunning RTP film commission, has been acquired by the Arts Council Collection to mark its 70th anniversary.
Described by Mark Brown, in The Guardian (15 January 2016), as “an experimental 16th-century costume drama filmed on the banks of the river Tamar … exploring the relationship
between waterways in south-west England and the slave trade”, Tropikos transforms the landscape along the Tamar Valley into the setting for a sixteenth-century port of exploration on the African continent in order to reveal the deep-rooted and darker history of the river.
Informed by historical accounts of the slave traders based in Plymouth, whilst also referencing classic literature, specifically Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611), the film is a fictional narrative, re-imagining some of the first “encounters with the other”, as Akomfrah puts it, in a period when Britain’s position as a global, seafaring power coincided with the enforced displacement of millions of African people across the Atlantic. Employing the tactics of Bertolt Brecht’s ‘theatre of alienation’, the artist presents a series of ‘tableaux vivantes’, which feel both archaic and imaginary, yet whose startling juxtapositions disrupt a simple identification with the characters depicted, demanding a conscious consideration of the constructed narrative. African and European locations blur, and characters and goods overlap with each other, as a representation of the faded traces of stories that we are asked to re-think afresh.
John Akomfrah (born 1957, Accra, Ghana) is an artist and filmmaker, based in London, whose works are characterised by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics, often exploring the experience of the African diaspora in Europe and the USA. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, in 1982, along with the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul (amongst others), with whom he still collaborates today, as Smoking Dogs Films.
On the 15th January 2016 the Arts Council Collection announced that Tropikos was one of eight new commissions acquired by the collection in order to celebrate it’s 70th anniversary. The commissions, also including works by Hurvin Anderson, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Ryan Gander, Mark Leckey, Heather Phillipson, Keith Piper and Katie Paterson, will all go on display in 2016 before joining the collection.
Tropikos (2014) – directed by John Akomfrah, and produced by Smoking Dogs Films (Lina Gopaul and David Lawson) – was commissioned by the River Tamar Project, and premiered at Devonport Guildhall in October 2014, as part of the It’s All About the River film festival. The commission was made possible with support from Plymouth University and Arts Council England, with kind contributions from the Elephant Trust and the George Melhuish Bequest and Smoking Dogs.