ARTIST and filmmaker John Akomfrah RA will represent Great Britain at the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2024, the British Council has announced.
Akomfrah, who was recently honoured with a knighthood in the 2023 UK Honours list, is known for his art films and multi-screen video installations, which explore major issues including racial injustice, colonial legacies, diasporic identities, migration and climate change.
The London-based artist initially came to prominence in the early 1980s as part of the Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC), a group of seven artists founded in 1982. The BAFC’s first film was Handsworth Songs (1986) which explored the events around the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London. In recent years, his multichannel video works have evolved into ambitious, multi-screen installations shown in galleries and museums around the world. In 2017, he won the Artes Mundi prize, the UK’s biggest award for international art. He has previously participated in the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia with his piece Four Nocturnes, commissioned for the inaugural Ghana Pavilion in 2019.
On accepting the British Council commission, John Akomfrah commented:
“It is a huge privilege and an honour to be asked to represent the UK at the 60th Venice Biennale – it is without a doubt one of the most exciting opportunities that an artist can be presented with. I see this invitation as recognition of, and a platform for all those I have collaborated with over the decades, and who continue to make my work possible. I’m grateful to be given a moment to explore the complex history and significance of this institution and the nation it represents, as well as its architectural home in Venice – with all the stories it has told and will continue to.”
Skinder Hundal, Global Director of Arts at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion, said:
“The British Council is thrilled to announce that John Akomfrah has been commissioned to represent the UK at the Biennale Arte 2024.
“With a career spanning four decades, the judges felt that Akomfrah had made a very significant contribution to the UK and international contemporary arts scene. John’s inspiring style and narrative has continuously evolved, revealing key ideas and questions about the world we inhabit. The quality and contextual depth of his artistry never fails to inspire deep reflection and awe. For the British Council to have such a significant British-Ghanaian artist in Venice is an exhilarating moment.”
Past British artists have included Golden Lion winner Sonia Boyce, Tracey Emin, Phyllida Barlow and Steve McQueen.
The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK’s artists, architects, designers and curators. These International Exhibitions, and the British Council’s Venice Fellowships initiative introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a major platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture.
Later this year, the British Council will appoint an Associate Curator to work alongside John Akomfrah and the British Council team to develop the exhibition. This post will be generously supported by Shane Akeroyd and offers mid-career curators a unique professional opportunity to work with a leading British artist on a global platform.
John Akomfrah’s British Council Commission for the British Pavilion at the Biennale Arte Venice will run from 20 April – 24 November 2024. https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/.
The British Pavilion is commissioned by the British Council.
Judging panel comments:
“John Akomfrah is one of the most outstanding artist filmmakers working today, so it’s exciting to have selected him for the British Pavilion 2024. In his moving image works, Akomfrah poetically layers fictious and factual narratives that compellingly invite us to embrace the complex realities of migrant diasporas. Akomfrah is a truly global thinker. Imaginatively addressing some of our most pressing existential concerns, his work will captivate viewers at the Venice Biennale.”
Emma Ridgway, Curator of ‘Sonia Boyce: Feeling Her Way’ (Shane Akeroyd Associate Curator), British Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia 2022
“It was clear in our deliberations that John Akomfrah CBE was a standout nomination. His pioneering work as a founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective and epic film installations address urgent issues surrounding the ongoing impact of colonialism, global migration, and the climate emergency. I have no doubt that his response to the British Pavilion in 2024 will be transformative.”
Melanie Pocock, Acting Artistic Director, Exhibitions, Ikon
“John’s consistent defiance in his poetic presentations of colonial legacies, and his commitment to filmmaking during the past four decades (through his own work and through the collaborative project Black Audio Film Collective) have revolutionised Black British art practice. We encounter racial injustice, diasporic identities, migration and climate change—through a distinctive approach to memory and history. I feel so honoured to have been part of this process with the rest of the jury, and cannot wait to spend time in Venice with what will no doubt be an incredible Pavilion.”
Kim McAleese, Director, Edinburgh Arts Festival
The British Pavilion is commissioned and managed by British Council Arts. Commissioner: Skinder Hundal, Global Director of Arts, British Council
For news on the British Council commission: https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/
Artists commissioned to represent Britain have included: Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Ben Nicholson, Anthony Caro, Bridget Riley, Richard Long, Frank Auerbach, Barry Flanagan, Howard Hodgkin, Tony Cragg, Anish Kapoor, Richard Hamilton, Leon Kossoff, Rachel Whiteread, Gary Hume, Mark Wallinger, Chris Ofili, Gilbert & George, Tracey Emin, Steve McQueen, Mike Nelson, Jeremy Deller, Sarah Lucas, Phyllida Barlow, Cathy Wilkes and Sonia Boyce (2022).
About the Venice Fellowships
The Venice Fellowships enable students and volunteers to spend a month in Venice during one of the world’s most significant art and architecture biennales:
About the British Council
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We support peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. We do this through our work in arts and culture, education and the English language. We work with people in over 200 countries and territories and are on the ground in more than 100 countries. In 2021-22 we reached 650 million people.