In this multi-layered installation, The Unfinished Conversation, John Akomfrah, the British film-maker finds out how identification is not an essence or rather how identification is not a product of both records and memory. To justify his position, he explores the personal archive of the influential and acclaimed cultural theorist Stuart Hall who was born in Jamaica. The essence of the use of Hall’s work is that his identity and ethnicity are not constant but they remain a situation of a conversation that is in progress. This conversation is about the identification in regards to races and ethnic backgrounds of persons.
While taking the audience through the three screens, Hall discusses the discovery of a personal and political identity. Akomfrah delves so much into issues concerning cultural identity using a wide range of references that include soundtrack and archive footage of Hall. He reinforces this by intertwining the biography with the different historical events. Some of the known artists for whom his work is founded on include Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf. He would combine both Gospel and Jazz alongside the news footage from the 1960s and 1970s. While appreciating the work of Hall, Akomfrah rightly noted that,
“To hear Stuart Hall speak about what it is to be different in society… gave you a sense not simply of self, but of agency, of what you could do with your life.”
Research About the work, History and Intentions Behind it
John Akomfrah is credited for directing this 2013 multi-layered three-screen installation. He does this by using the technique of contrast and comparison as well as embedding different historical footages with text, music and photographs. The Unfinished Conversation subtle elements crafted by Stuart Hall and his yield on radio and television as an immigrant in the post war period. He is caught in this work as a person who landed in England in the main quarter of the 1950s. The Unfinished Conversation is an individual venture for the chief that points of interest impression of his own section and a greater amount of research work in the range of dark personality.
This three-screen establishment was created by utilizing the investigation and determination emerging from the 800 hours of Stuart Hall’s own chronicle material of sound meetings and the distinctive television records. While alluding to character, race and memory, crafted by John Akomfrah reconsiders the idea of memory itself utilizing the individual document of a person. He does this by inserting it with music of people like Miles Davis, one of the Hall’s praised performers even as Hall’s astounding file proliferates the worldwide occasions that were occurring.
Through Akomfrah’s multi-layered establishment, Hall’s magnificent work on culture and character is commended making it significant even to date. Further, the visuals that are utilized Hall’s work are addressed by Akomfrah. Surrendered that he developed in Jamaica as a major aspect of the Caribbean diaspora, the huge issues of personality, ethnicity, culture, sexual introduction were effortlessly tended to.
Quality and Evaluation of Chosen Work
From the work, Akomfrah is known to have participated in different social movements such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) where it was on the CND that he met the future wife. His works and moves would be later imitated by artists who were used photomontage in raising awareness regarding effects of nuclear threat to the country and promotion of CND’s cause. One of the persons who was involved in the social movements as part of promoting social awareness in the community is FHK Henrion. This was a graphic design inspired by Akomfrah and would use elements of photomontage together with a collage to promote the cause of CND. In fact, he championed the use of Surrealist compositions within the language of visual communications and marketing Britian. This was together with the work of the renowned photomontage artist Peter Kennard.
Even though people think that Jamaica is so simple a society, Akomfrah contends in his work that it has the most complicated color stratification system in the world. There was the real practical semioticians where individuals in the family could easily compute and calculate the social status of individuals through grading certain quality of their hair versus the specific quality of the family from where they were brought up. The grading could also be done against the street that people lived in which entailed the physiogamy, the shading and much more. One could easily trade off one of their features against the other. In comparison to that, the normal class stratification system to them was just like a child’s play.
Interestingly, the word black was never known in the area. This did not mean that there were no black people around, in fact they were a lot, thousands and thousands. In this case, black in reference is the historical category of people and not pigmentation. It is the historical, political and cultural categories. The historical associations of the persons and the color inscribed in their skins is what is in reference in this case. John contends that the first time he heard of the term Black was when there was Civil Rights movement, a time when there was decolonization and national struggles. This time, black was created as some kind of political category within a given historical movement. It was just more of representation of ideological struggles that individuals had.
According to John Akomfrah, the identities of persons were more seen as formation of the intersection of both political and personal features. This is what made individuals be seen as continuously progressive and never finishing. Individuals are seen as multi-layered and with different kinds of facets and he uses the three screens to showcase that while in the struggles for political reasons, individuals can have an overlap. This suggests that things can then run on parallel tracks as they are sought out.
Akomfrah displays the economic struggles of individuals just as what appears in the known title of The Promise of Beyond. Akmofrah economic background comes out when he contends that he was raised in the lower middle class family in Jamaica. However, to get out of the struggles, he left Jamaica for England to go and study. By the time of leaving, 98 percent of the Jamaican’s were blacks or colored in a way or another. There was so much of economic struggles and less of class struggles. By the time he was leaving nobody was referring themselves as Black. Inidviduals could only differentiate the different shades of blacks ranging from light brown to dark brown. In fact, the blacks were celebrated and there was even a contest by the time he left Jamaica where different shades of women were graded in reference to the different trees. During the beauty peagent, people could be referred to as Miss Mahogany, Miss Walnut and many more types of trees.
In this multi-layered installation, The Unfinished Conversation, John Akomfrah, has made discovery on how identity is not an essence or rather how identity is not a product of both history and memory. In justifying his position, he explores the personal archive of the influential and acclaimed cultural theorist Stuart Hall who was born in Jamaica. The essence of using Hall’s work is that his identity and ethnicity are not fixed but they remain a subject of a conversation that is in progress. The conversation has been about the identity in regards to races and ethnic backgrounds of persons. Using the three screens, Hall discusses the discovery of a personal and political identity. Akomfrah delves so much into issues concerning cultural identity using a wide range of references that include soundtrack and archive footage of Hall.
Akomfrah, John, Zineb Sedira, and Penny Siopis. “The Unfinished Conversation.” (2012).
Dudrah, Rajinder. “Reading The Stuart Hall Project.” Journal of British Cinema and Television 12.3 (2015): 383-401.
Hall, Stuart McPhail. “Stuart Hall (cultural theorist) explained.”
Hudson, Mark. The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah: a beautiful paean to identity. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/9609361/The-Unfinished-Conversation-by-John-Akomfrah-a-beautiful-paean-to-identity.html
Mercer, Kobena. “Becoming Black Audio: An Interview with John Akomfrah and Trevor Mathison.” Black Camera 6.2 (2015): 79-93.
Stacey, Jackie. “The unfinished conversations of cultural studies.” Cultural Studies 29.1 (2015): 43-50.