The Chrysler Museum of Art will examine the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Upcoming Exhibition
NORFOLK, Va. (June 4, 2019) – The Chrysler Museum of Art will present Tropikos, the visually breathtaking and compelling work by British filmmaker John Akomfrah. On view July 9, 2019–Jan. 5, 2020, the film presents Britain’s participation in the ugly, traumatic Transatlantic Slave Trade.
In the mid-16th century, England began exploiting the natural resources of Guinea in West Africa, shipping raw materials and humans between Guinea and the port city of Plymouth. The film confronts that moment in history, exploring the more complex and often subtle dynamics between the slave owners and the people they enslaved.
“Akomfrah’s films are powerful presentations of the complexities of life past and present. Given that 2019 is the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans on American shores, Tropikos adds another dimension, looking at this traumatic experience from another perspective and geographic point. In addition, the film serves as a reminder that the present era is always bound together with the past. In this case, Akomfrah examines the wealth of Europe and the widespread abuse of the African continent,” said Kimberli Gant, Ph.D, the Chrysler Museum’s McKinnon Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.
Akomfrah uses still camera shots to create a giant tableau vivant (still living picture) filled with wealthy English merchants in decadent dress silently engaging with their enslaved Africans along Plymouth’s coast. The eye-to-eye interactions suggest the unseen emotional, physical, sexual and psychological violence millions of African peoples endured for centuries, resulting in immense riches for their European captors. An omnipotent voice recites text from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611) and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) over these scenes. The audio alludes to the figures on the screen being caught in an incredible hallucination, a nightmare for one group and a wondrous dream for another. Though half a millennia have passed from the historical events Akomfrah presents, humans today are still feeling the effects.
Akomfrah is known for his thought-provoking films focused on the history of people of African descent around the world. “The aversion to fiction…is what keeps me interested in the non-fictive. It’s what keeps me interested in questions of the historical because they act as a kind of power counterbalance against the sort of turbulence of amnesia. And amnesia is a constant sea… We swim in it all the time, so one does need balance of memory and the historical just to counterbalance,” commented Akomfrah in an interview recorded by the Tate Museum in 2015.
Although his career spans three decades, Akomfrah’s works have just recently garnered worldwide attention with solo exhibitions at the New Museum in New York, the ICA Boston and the Barbican in London. He also participated in several international biennials, including Dak’Art, Prospect 4 New Orleans and the Venice Biennale, and currently runs Smoking Dogs Films, the company that produced his most recent projects. Before his newfound acclaim, Akomfrah was a founding member of the highly influential Black Audio Film Collective (1982–1998) based in London. He founded the organization with internationally recognized artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul.
ABOUT THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM OF ART
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.
The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-the-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon. The studio has also cultivated a reputation for its cutting-edge performance evenings, and was the host venue of the 2017 Glass Arts Society Conference.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers two historic houses in downtown Norfolk: the Moses Myers House and the Willoughby-Baylor House, as well as the Jean Outland Chrysler Library on the campus of Old Dominion University. General admission is free at all venues. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.
For more information, interview assistance, or a high-resolution image suitable for publication, please contact Amber Kennedy at The Meridian Group at (757) 340-7425 or Amber@themeridiangroup.com.