First screened in 2019 at the Imperial war Museum as part of the First World War centenary, John Akomfah’s Mimesis: African Soldier is currently showing at the Bristol Museum and uncovers the largely ignored story of the Commonwealth soldiers who volunteered to fight in World War I: the war of their colonial masters.
During a recent trip to Bristol I stumbled across an immersive and powerful John Akomfrah installation that was showing at the Bristol Museum. Mimesis: African Soldier is delivered via three large screens in a dark room and lasts 73 minutes. The artwork combines a powerful score that mixes African and Indian song with new compositions, introduces amazing historic footage and combines newly created film, shot by Akomfrah in locations around the world that speak to the African and Asian experience of leaving loved ones for the harsh realities the First World War. Its impact has continued to resonate with me long after experiencing the screening.
Between 1914 and 1918, millions of dedicated and enthusiastic African soldiers served in long, colonial campaigns that spanned the whole of the African continent, contributing to victories throughout WWI. In addition to this fighting, African soldiers from British, French and Dutch African territories were brought to Europe’s western front, where they lost their lives alongside unknown, unheralded and undocumented African carriers. The footage is a amazing.
“The most important thing for me, the takeaway, is that African soldiers fought in this war, that they played a variety of roles in the war as foot soldiers, as carriers. Every facet, every avenue, every job in the war, if you look long enough, you will see someone of either Asian or African origin/heritage in that role.” – John Akomfrah
Since founding the influential Black Audio Film Collective in 1982 John Akomfrah’s has delivered his works via his Smoking Dogs production company. He has taken on an immersive, often meditative, multi-layered visual style. He is best known for his multi-screen installations, such as Purple (2017), Precarity (2017), Vertigo Sea (2015), The Unintended Beauty of Disaster (2021) and Five Murmurations (2021). His Unfinished Conversations (2012) was shown at Tate Britain’s Life Between Islands and a brand new work planned to be shown in the at the Sharjah Biennial in 2023
The installation is on to the 8th January 2023 … so, there’s still time to catch it if you’re in Bristol over the holiday season. You can enter the gallery at any time but the film will start from the beginning at the following approximate times: 10.30am, 11.43am, 12.56pm, 2.09pm, 3.22pm (Timings are subject to some variation.)
Here’s a little podcast with John to go a bit deeper into the man’s work!! https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2022/10/05/a-brush-with-john-akomfrah-podcast
Above. John Akomfrah.