The three-screen video installation Four Nocturnes forms the third part of a trilogy of films including Vertigo Sea (2015) and Purple (2017) that explores the complex intertwined relationship between humanity’s destruction of the natural world and our destruction of ourselves. Using Africa’s declining elephant populations as its narrative spine, Four Nocturnes unravels as a set of impressionist meditations. The work questions mortality, loss, fragmented identity, mythology, and memory through poetic visuals that survey the landscape of African cultural heritage.
John Akomfrah is a hugely respected artist and filmmaker, whose works are characterised by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics and often explores the experiences of migrant diasporas globally. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today. Their first film, Handsworth Songs (1986) explored the events surrounding the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London through a charged combination of archive footage, still photos and newsreel.
The film won several international prizes and established a multi-layered visual style that has become a recognisable motif of Akomfrah’s practice. Other works include the three-screen installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), a moving portrait of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s life and work; Peripeteia (2012), an imagined drama visualising the lives of individuals included in two 16th century portraits by Albrecht Dürer and Mnemosyne (2010) which exposes the experience of migrants in the UK, questioning the notion of Britain as a promised land by revealing the realities of economic hardship and casual racism. In 2019, on the occasion of his participation at the first Ghana Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, John Akomfrah presented Four Nocturnes (2019), a three-channel piece that reflects on the complex intertwined relationship between humanity’s destruction of the natural world and our destruction of ourselves.