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Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

In 'Purple,' John Akomfrah Confronts Climate Change Head On

The Ghanaian-born artist's new show at London's Barbican Gallery is a frightening sensory experience.

Purple is John Akomfrah's ambitious rendering of the effects of climate change and a special commissioned by the UK's Barbican gallery. The Ghanaian-born, London-based filmmaker has created a six channel video installation, each one laced to the next, for which he combined myriad archival footage with newer ones, harmonised by a sweeping orchestral score.


Akomfrah's previous work, Vertigo Sea (2015), was a three screen installation which addressed the industry of whaling but also the role of the sea in migration and slavery. The film is part of Akomfrah's substantial and weighty body of work that includes "Auto Da Fe" (2009) for which he was awarded the Artes Mundi prize for 2017, the international award for visual artists held every year in Cardiff, UK.

Purple addresses the anthropocene, the geological time period characterised by human influence on the planet that has led to mass extinction of plant and animal life, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns. The Anthropocene is itself a modification of the Holocene which covers the entirety of human presence on earth, and, unlike the former, is formally recognised by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS).


Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

Purple runs to a full hour and consists of six parts each of which is prefaced with evocative titles - "Into The Petrified Waters", "The Toxic Body and a Love Story", "The Liquid Spirit of Things", "The Alien in the Body", "Oh Earth What Changes Hast Thou Seen" and "The Winter of Our Discontents" —a structure which makes digestible a subject of such scale and importance its total impact on the planet still beggars belief.

Akomfrah has chosen a pointillist approach to make "Purple", using film clips lasting mere seconds and from disparate sources, from a television assembly plant to Greenpeace activism, from swarming locusts to those of the great Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah on official engagement, all of which the viewer is encouraged to accept as a seamless whole by sweeping orchestral arrangements.

Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

Akomfrah does not present authoritative scientific facts on the ecological destruction of climate change, or anything by way of an argument on what an appropriate response ought to be.

If "Purple" was not primarily designed to be a sensory experience, it succeeds well enough as one - helped by active recollection from the different memories and thoughts each image and their sum total bring to the fore.

Watching the film could also be a cerebral experience depending on the viewer's prior knowledge of the discourse around climate change, and familiarity of experimental filmmaking.

Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

The most obvious framing device Akomfrah has deployed is the depiction of the human life cycle using shots of babies at the moment of birth and laterly shots of a cemetery (with blooming purple flowers).

The title "Purple" was chosen for its artificial nature, being a combination of red and blue, both natural colours. The anthropocene is believed to be artificial because it is "man-induced" and not an accident of nature.

The easy reasoning crystallizes a gargantuan concern which required clever film making inventions from Akomfrah to have /be rendered past the heart and intellect, and aimed for the senses and the existential.

Purple is showing until January 7th at London's Barbican gallery.

John Akromfah, Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

News Brief
Photo: Getty

Here's What You Need To Know About The Political Unrest In Sudan

Thousands have been protesting the Sudanese government over the weekend, supporting the military's plans for a coup.

Sudan's transitional government is in turmoil as thousands of citizens conducted a sit-in protest against them, over the weekend. A group of Sudanese citizens have called on the military to disestablish the nation's current government, as the country struggles with the greatest crisis they've seen since the end of former dictator Omar al-Bashir's controversial ruling, two years ago. The weekend's pro-military protests come as anti-military protestors took to the streets earlier this month to fight for civilian-ruled laws.

Military-aligned demonstrators assembled outside of the famously off-limits entrance of the Presidential Palace located in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum on Monday. Gatherers set up tents, blocking off access to two main intersections, cutting off access to the capital for those inside. Police attempted to wave off crowds with teargas, with Khartoum state officials saying they had, "repelled an attempted assault on the seat of government," in a statement issued Monday.

The assembly was called for by a coalition of rebel groups and political parties that support Sudan's military, accusing the civilian political parties of mismanagement and monopolizing power under their ruling. Demonstrations began on Saturday, but Sunday's gathering saw a lower attendance. According to Reuters, by Monday afternoon, thousands, between 2,000 - 3,000, had returned to voice their concerns. 52-year-old tribal elder Tahar Fadl al-Mawla spoke at the helm of the sit-in outside of the Presidential palace saying, "The civilian government has failed. We want a government of soldiers to protect the transition." Alongside a 65-year-old Ahman Jumaa who claimed to have traveled more than 900 kilometers (570 miles) from Southern region Nyala to show his support.

Protesters are demanding the appointment of a new cabinet that is "more representative of the people who participated in the December 2019 revolution that eventually led to the ousting of former president Omar al-Bashir", Al Jazeera reported from Sudan. Protesters headed towards the Presidential Palace, where an emergency cabinet meeting was being held when they were met by police forces.

Pro-civilian political parties have plans for their own demonstration on Thursday, the anniversary of the 1964 revolution that overthrew Sudan's first military regime under Ibrahim Abboud and brought in a period of democracy that the country still struggles to uphold.


Sudanese Twitter users shared their thoughts online, with many drawing similarities between the current unrest and other political crises the nation has faced.


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