The Tropikos: John Akomfrah

The film installation, shown at Lisson Gallery, is an experimental costume drama set in the sixteenth century.  The film was made in Plymouth and the Tamar Valley, locations which have significant connections with the expansion of European power and darker history of the river.  The artist’s starting point was the connection between the waterways of the south west and the slave trade.   In the film we see the first British encounters with people from Africa.  The fictional narrative reflects on the global seafaring power and the bleak history of the British Empire.

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The film draws on the writings of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, stories of seafarers, and loosely on Bertolt Brecht’s notion of ‘epic theatre’.  The actors in the film, in sixteenth century period costumes, appear in a series of tableauxs where African and European landscapes and characters overlap.

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This is a powerful work, where we feel quite stranded and distressed.  It is not costume drama but the presentation of history.   I am sure it will have many parallels with the artist’s Vertigo Sea, fresh from the Venice Biennale, this film installation is now touring the UK, including venues in Bristol and Manchester.