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John Akomfrah with artwork Auto Da Fé. Courtesy Artes Mundi 7, Cardiff, UK
John Akomfrah with artwork Auto Da Fé. Courtesy Artes Mundi 7, Cardiff, UK
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John Akomfrah wins Celebrated Artes Mundi 7 Prize

Picture of Freire Barnes
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 27 January 2017
Ghanian artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah OBE wins the respected contemporary art award, Artes Mundi 7, for his filmwork about migration and displacement.
John Akomfrah with artwork Auto Da Fé
John Akomfrah with artwork Auto Da Fé

‘I am absolutely touched by this and enormously grateful for the chance it offers to finally finish off something I have been planning for over a decade,’ said John Akomfrah on being announced as the seventh winner of the £40,000 biennial art prize that focuses on artists whose work explores social issues. ‘Over the years, Artes Mundi has chosen some very brilliant artists for this award: all were important artists doing challenging and engaged work, and to join that group is a huge honour and responsibility.’

John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé, 2016. Two channel HD colour video installation. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery
John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé, 2016. Two channel HD colour video installation. | © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery

Chosen from a shortlist of six artists that included Neïl Beloufa, Nástio Mosquito, Lamia Joreige, Bedwyr Williams, and Amy Franceschini/Futurefarmers, Akomfrah’s two-screen film installation, Auto Da Fé (2016), ultimately resonated with the judges. ‘We are excited to award John Akomfrah the Artes Mundi 7 prize in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to art over the past eight years,’ said this year’s Judging Chair and Art Review editor, Oliver Basciano. ‘We do so in recognition of both his newly-presented work Auto Da Fé and in appreciation of the artist’s ability to tell stories with historical depth, exploring social and political concerns through exquisite cinematic language.’

John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé
John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé. Courtesy the artist and Artes Mundi 7
John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé
John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé. Courtesy the artist and Artes Mundi 7

A founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective, Akomfrah’s work for the past three decades has focused on migration. In Auto Da Fé, he considers the causes for displacement, both historical and contemporary, through the prism of a period drama. The film looks at the conditions of refugeeship and how people’s lives have been impacted and shaped by higher powers – economic hardship and religious persecution – over the past four centuries.

John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé, 2016. Two channel HD colour video installation. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery
John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé, 2016. Two channel HD colour video installation. | © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery

‘Artes Mundi champions leading contemporary artists, from across the world, whose work relates to every aspect of our personal lives in a global society,’ said Karen Mackinnon, Artes Mundi Director. ‘The judges felt that all the shortlisted artists showed outstanding work. However the prize is awarded not just for the work in the exhibition but for the continued excellence of their practice over the past 8 years. The Artes Mundi 7 Prize was awarded for Akomfrah’s presentation of Auto Da Fé and for a substantial body of outstanding work dealing with issues of migration, racism and religious persecution. To speak of these things in this particular moment feels more important than ever.’

Artes Mundi 7 is on until 26 February 2017 at National Museum of Art, National Museum Cardiff, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP and Chapter, Market Road, Cardiff CF5 1QE.