African Artist Spotlight Series: The Multidisciplinary Approach of Larry Achiampong
As one meanders through the captivating world of the African Artist Spotlight Series, the eye is invariably drawn to the dazzling array of multidisciplinary talent emerging from the continent and its diaspora. Amongst these contemporary luminaries, the British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong stands out as a beacon of creativity, seamlessly weaving his rich cultural tapestry across a spectrum of artistic practices. In this journal, we shall embark on an odyssey through Achiampong’s diverse body of work, traversing the realms of film, sound, and visual art. Along the way, we shall delve into the depths of the African diaspora, exploring the myriad ways in which Achiampong’s oeuvre enriches our understanding of artistic expression across cultures.
Background and early influences
Larry Achiampong’s artistic trajectory was shaped from the outset by the confluence of his British and Ghanaian heritage. Born and raised in London to Ghanaian parents, Achiampong grew up surrounded by a rich cultural milieu, his artistic sensibilities nurtured by a diverse array of African and Western influences. His artistic journey began with an immersion in painting and graphic design, culminating in a degree from the University of Westminster, followed by an MA in Sculpture from the Slade School of Fine Art. It was during these formative years that the seeds of Achiampong’s multidisciplinary practice were sown, as he experimented with various media, honing his unique artistic voice.
Exploration of identity and heritage
At the heart of Achiampong’s oeuvre lies a profound exploration of identity and heritage, with particular emphasis on his dual British-Ghanaian identity. Achiampong’s work delves into the complex interplay between history, memory, and personal experience, elucidating themes of migration, colonization, and race. His 2016 film, Relic Traveller, is a poignant case in point, as the artist embarks on a journey through time and space, grappling with the legacy of the British Empire and its impact on the African diaspora. In Relic Traveller, Achiampong weaves a rich tapestry of narrative, combining archival footage, personal testimony, and speculative fiction to craft a thought-provoking meditation on the fluidity of identity and the scars of colonialism.
Film and video installations
Achiampong’s forays into film and video installations have yielded a series of evocative works that bear witness to his storytelling prowess and penchant for narrative experimentation. Among his most notable films is PAN AFRICAN FLAGS FOR THE RELIC TRAVELLERS’ ALLIANCE, a visually arresting work that reimagines the flags of 54 African nations, imbuing them with symbolic motifs drawn from Pan-Africanism and Afrofuturism. In collaboration with fellow artist David Blandy, Achiampong has also co-created the Finding Fanon series, an exploration of the ideas of Frantz Fanon, the influential post-colonial philosopher. Through their cinematic partnership, Achiampong and Blandy deftly juxtapose the personal and the political, probing the enduring resonance of Fanon’s theories in today’s globalized world.
Sound and music projects
Achiampong’s artistic versatility extends to the realm of sound and music, where his oeuvre is characterized by a penchant for experimentation and a keen ear for African and Afrofuturist musical influences. Having grown up immersed in a diverse range of musical styles, from highlife to hip-hop, Achiampong’s sonic landscape is a veritable melting pot of cultural influences. One such example is his 2017 audio-visual project, Meh Mogya (My Blood), which fuses traditional Ghanaian music with contemporary electronic beats, creating an immersive soundscape that reflects the artist’s dual cultural heritage. Collaborations with musicians and sound artists have further enriched Achiampong’s musical output, as evidenced by his work with The Otolith Group on the 2019 sound installation Sanko-time. Here, Achiampong and his collaborators craft a sonic universe that oscillates between the past and the future, evoking themes of displacement, memory, and the African diaspora.
Visual art and other mediums
In addition to his film and sound projects, Achiampong’s artistic repertoire encompasses a vast array of visual art endeavors, spanning mixed media, found materials, and digital techniques. His 2018 installation Sunday’s Best exemplifies the artist’s proclivity for multimedia exploration, combining vintage photographs, audio recordings, and ephemera to create a poignant meditation on the role of religion and spirituality in the lives of West African immigrants in the UK. Achiampong’s facility with digital technology is also evident in his work, as demonstrated by his 2020 series Cloud Break, in which the artist employs 3D rendering software to create abstract landscapes that evoke the transience of memory and the fragility of human connection.
Exhibitions and public recognition
Larry Achiampong’s artistic prowess has not gone unnoticed, with his work garnering widespread acclaim and featuring in prominent exhibitions and installations around the globe. Among his most notable exhibitions are the 2019 Venice Biennale, where his PAN AFRICAN FLAGS FOR THE RELIC TRAVELLERS’ ALLIANCE made its debut, and the 2020 Tate Britain display of Cloud Break. Achiampong’s numerous accolades include the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists (2018) and the Film London Jarman Award (2020). His work has left an indelible mark on the contemporary African and diaspora art scenes, inspiring a new generation of artists to explore the manifold dimensions of their cultural heritage.
As our journey through the multifaceted world of Larry Achiampong’s artistic practice draws to a close, we are left with a profound sense of the richness and diversity of African and diaspora artists. In Achiampong’s work, we find a rare confluence of cultures, mediums, and themes that illuminate the complex interplay of identity, history, and artistic expression. His legacy serves as a testament to the power of art to traverse boundaries, bridging the gaps between past and present, self and other, tradition and innovation. As we continue our exploration of the African Artist Spotlight Series, let us bear in mind the invaluable contributions of artists like Larry Achiampong, and let us embrace the opportunity to engage with, learn from, and celebrate the vibrant artistic tapestry that is the African diaspora.