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On October 28, the Hirshhorn Museum will open an exhibition by the groundbreaking artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah. Entitled “Purple” (2017), the exhibition marks an inaugural showing in Washington D.C., presenting the artist’s largest video installation to date. Addressing the global devastation of climate change, the film was curated by Marina Isgro, Associate Curator of media and performance art.
“John Akomfrah has a singular way of addressing weighty philosophical and social issues while generating a powerful emotional pull that absorbs you completely,” Isgro said. “With its immersive visuals and sound, Purple gives viewers an access point into the conversation around climate change, which can sometimes feel overwhelming.”
London-based Akomfrah is known for his creative probing of post-colonialism and global migrant diasporas with memory, impermanence, and the philosophy of art. As a founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective in 1982, documenting racial inequalities in the United Kingdom, Akomfrah has been a long-time creator of the most critical works in film history.
“Purple” fuses original film with archival footage and a mesmerizing score. The artist explores the currently fading lands of Alaska, Greenland, the Tahitian Peninsula and the South Pacific’s volcanic Marquesas Islands, set against historical imagery, original music, and spoken word. The overwhelming impact of human progress on earth becomes visible.
“I want people to be aware of the ways in which their lives are touched by things unseen and bear witness to these creeping environmental disasters and emergencies,” Akomfrah said. “I think the there is a special significance of the Hirshhorn’s proximity to the major center of power on our planet—the spaces in which key decisions need to be made in environmental policy in the United States—and I hope the questions that Purple raises about the environmental crisis we are living through today are ones that can be understood and appreciated by all without partisanship.”
Inside the Hirshhorn Museum, the film will be presented on six screens. Purple carpeting on the floors and walls of the space creates a beguiling and pensive atmosphere. The special project was co-acquired by Hirshhorn and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston last year.
“We are proud to debut this masterful recent acquisition to audiences in the nation’s capital,” said Melissa Chiu, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. “John Akomfrah’s poetic narrative is a powerful reminder that our personal relationship and our environment is also global. Installing 'Purple’ at the Hirshhorn, on the National Mall, heightens the artwork’s potential to inspire conversations among and between citizens and leadership.”