Acclaimed Akomfrah video installation bought for the nation

  • 5 December 2014

John Akomfrah's Unfinished Conversation, the highlight of the 2012 Liverpool Biennial, has been bought by Tate and the British Council with Art Fund support.

The Unfinished Conversation was created as a result of John Akomfrah's Stuart Hall archive project. Hall was one of Britain's leading intellectuals in the latter half of the 20th century. Born in Jamaica, he travelled to Oxford to study at the age of 19. By his early 20s, he was editor of the influential New Left Review, and later in life he became one of the key figures in the development of Cultural Studies, as well as a public figure through his televised Open University lectures.

John Akomfrah is one of Britain's leading artists and directors; he started out as a member of the Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC) before going solo. Akomfrah established a lifelong friendship after Hall became involved with the production of the BAFC's first major work, the 1987 film Handsworth Songs.

With Hall's health in decline in the early years of the 21st century, Akomfrah embarked on a project to explore Hall's life and work through a piece that drew heavily on Hall's personal archive. Akomfrah's work with Hall's archive resulted in two separate pieces: the Stuart Hall Project, a single-screen film for cinema, and the Unfinished Conversation, a three-screen installation intended for display in galleries. 

Taking its name from Hall's theory of identity, which he described as an 'ever-unfinished conversation' between the individual and history, Akomfrah's installation features images of Hall and the events that shaped his life, intermingled with newly shot material, to tell the story of Hall's formative years and experiences. 

The Unfinished Conversation has been jointly acquired by Tate and the British Council with help from a £50,000 Art Fund grant.

'Stuart Hall was one of the most important and inspiring cultural figures in 20th-century Britain and John Akomfrah is highly distinguished artist, writer and film director,' said Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar. 'From all points of view it's a real honour for the Art Fund to be helping to bring this fine and intensely moving work into public ownership.

'As a joint acquisition between Tate and the British Council, it will be accessible to – and hopefully influential upon – both UK and international audiences for many years to come.'

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