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The Ghosts of Songs: A Retrospective of the Black Audio Film Collective

April 17, 2007 by  

The first major touring exhibition of the seminal and multi-award winning media group, The Black Audio Film Collective is presented at Arnolfini this April.

Inaugurated in 1983 and dissolved in 1998, the seven – person Black Audio Film Collective is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential artist groups to emerge from Britain in recent years.

The Ghosts of Songs is the first retrospective to explore this important group’s entire body of work. Curated and produced by Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar of The Otolith Group, it reveals the Collective as dynamic, articulate artists, dedicated to engaging with the past, present and future of memory, media and the moving image.

From their base in East London, John Akomfrah, Lina Gopaul, Avril Johnson, Reece Auguiste, Trevor Mathison, David Lawson and Edward George produced award winning film, photography, slide tape, video, installation, posters and interventions, much of which had never been exhibited in Britain before the current tour.

Their first film Handsworth Songs, which chronicled the tragic aftermath of the 1985 race riots in Handsworth, Birmingham, won seven international awards in 1987; their second film Testament, about an exiled Ghanaian politician returning to his country 20 years after the 1966 coup, premiered at the Semaine de la Critique at Cannes International Film Festival in 1988; these and subsequent works such as Who Needs A Heart (1991) and The Last Angel of History (1995) staked a claim for a new kind of moving image work that was resolutely experimental and confidently internationalist. Themes of race, memory and colonial history, run throughout all of their deeply poetic and assuredly political works.

The exhibition has been specially designed in conjunction with architect David Adjaye to show the films Handsworth Songs, Signs of Empire, Twilight City and Seven Songs for Malcolm X. A rolling programme of some of the groups other major film and video works will be presented alongside in Arnolfini’s Dark Studio. In addition, Black Audio Film Collective’s installation The Black Room will be re-staged for the first time since 1996 and completely revised for a contemporary audience by the artists.

Archival material and documents, which situate the groups’ practice in the social, historical, economic and geographical context of a changing Britain will also be presented, including posters and promotional materials, as well as a new interactive website.

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