A commission by NAE with 1418-Now. NAE launched the film at Imperial War Museum, London in 2018 and it will be presented at NAE in autumn 2019 along a curated selection of works responding to the theme of absence.
This new multi-screen installation by artist John Akomfrah remembers the millions of African and colonial soldiers, labourers and carriers who served in the First World War. Projected onto three screens, the artwork combines newly created film, shot by Akomfrah in locations around the world, a powerful sound score and historic footage that speak to the African experience of the First World War.
The First World War was waged between empires that were global in their ambitions and reach. Between 1914 and 1918, millions of African and colonial soldiers served in long campaigns that spanned the whole of the African and European continents, contributing to victories throughout the First World War. These soldiers from British and French African territories were brought to Europe's western front, where hundreds and thousands lost their lives alongside unknown, unheralded and undocumented African labourers and carriers. Mimesis: African Soldier seeks to commemorate these Africans and colonial soldiers who fought, served and died during the First World War.
John Akomfrah is best known for his multi-screen installations, such as Purple (2017), Precarity (2017) and Vertigo Sea (2015). Since founding the influential Black Audio Film Collective in 1982, his work has taken on a multi-layered visual style that fuses archival material and newly shot footage. Continuing this practice, Mimesis: African Soldier sees Akomfrah use historic film, including material from IWM's extensive archive, to tell some of the lesser known stories of the First World War.
The work is co-commissioned by New Art Exchange, Nottingham, Smoking Dogs Films and 14-18 NOW, the UK's arts programme for the First World War centenary, with additional support from Sharjah Art Foundation.
Image: African Soldier, John Akomfrah, 2018. Courtesy of Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery. © Smoking Dogs Films.