John Akomfrah : Auto Da Fé

STUK — House for Dance, Image & Sound, Leuven, Belgium
22 Mar 2016 - 22 May 2016

John Akomfrah : Auto Da Fé

John Akomfrah, Auto Da Fé, 2016. Two channel, HD colour, video installation, sound, 40:30 minutes, edition of 5 + 2 AP. Courtesy of John Akomfrah and Lisson Gallery. © Smoking Dogs Films.


« In Auto da Fé, Akomfrah continues his longstanding investigation of the transmutations brought about by relocation […] The circuits of migration, like the oceans in which they run, are thus vast: from Europe and Africa to South America and the Caribbean, and sometimes […] back to Europe. »

–Artforum, « Waves of Migration, » February 2016

Auto Da Fé is a diptych that looks at migration through the lens of religious persecution. Presented as a poetic period drama, the film connects a series of eight historical migrations over the last 400 years, starting with the little known 1654 fleeing of Sephardic Jews from Catholic Brazil to Barbados. As the film develops, we are presented with tale after tale of populations being displaced along religious lines, right up to the present day migrations from Hombori, Mali and Mosul, Iraq. Religion, persecution and migration are, it seems, old and continuing bedfellows. The work was filmed on location in Barbados, but the landscape is deliberately anonymous, reflecting the universal nature of these stories. In Auto Da Fé, like in Tropikos, 2016 and in Vertigo Sea, 2015, the ocean plays an important role. It is symbolized as an intermediate zone between the past and the present, the particular and the general, the local and the global and as an oblique site of memory for the modern diasporic subject.

Auto Da Fé is presented next to Handsworth Songs (1986), the film which put the work of Black Audio Film Collective on the map. The film explores the 1985 riots in Handsworth (Birmingham) and Tottenham (London) through a charged combination of archival material, sound design and footage shot by the collective during and after the riots. It attracted a huge audience when shown at Tate Modern in the wake of the 2011 London riots. The societal topics it addresses, from migration to social and economic disenfranchisement and suppression, and racial violence, seem more pressing than ever.

This exhibition is presented in the context of Moving Image Expo, a series of exhibitions at STUK focusing on multiple screen audiovisual works.


John Akomfrah (b. 1957, Accra, Ghana) is an artist and filmmaker living and working in London. His works are characterized by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics, and often explore the experience of the African diaspora in Europe and the USA. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective in London in 1982, along with the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today as Smoking Dogs Films. John Akomfrah has had numerous solo exhibitions including Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (2016); Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden (2015); Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan (2014); Tate Britain, London (2013-14) and a weeklong series of screenings at MoMA, New York (2011). His work has also been featured in many international film festivals, including Sundance Film Festival, Utah (2013 and 2011) and Toronto International Film Festival (2012).