b. 1957, Accra, Ghana. Lives and works in London

Purple, 2017 
Six-channel video Installation, 62’
Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna

The video installation is on view from June 15 to November 17, 2019

John Akomfrah’s impressive epic video is composed of cinematic and newly-shot footage from the farthest corners of the world. The installation immerses the viewer in the color purple, a hybrid hue that combines the coldness of blue and the warmth of red, thus symbolizing the complexity and interdependence of every living thing. The montage of scenes of natural beauty creates a painful sense of the looming loss that humanity is facing. The reference to Tyrian purple, an expensive pigment which was initially created from a rare type of gastropod and became a symbol of might for Roman and Byzantine emperors, is a reminder of an early example of humankind’s exploitation of nature not for survival but as a means of acquiring wealth and demonstrating power.

Moving from images of birth to images of death, the narrative unambiguously points to the destructive nature of our activities on the planet, which is inevitably moving toward an ecological disaster. In his panoramic views of nature’s most stunning landscapes, now altered by humanity, Akomfrah uses a technique popular in Romantic painting, placing solitary human figures at the center of his compositions. But if in German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s work anonymous figures confront the merciless and sublime forces of nature, in Akomfrah’s video they seem to embody the arrogance reflected in our vision of humankind as the center of the universe, ruling over all life on the planet. The irritating idleness of the figures in Purple reads as a premonition of the global consequences of humanity’s indifference toward its own ecological impact on the planet.

Commissioned by the Barbican, London and co-commissioned by Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden,

TBA21–Academy, The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon, and Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow.