John Akomfrah winner of the Artes Mundi 7 Prize 2017

Date posted: January 26, 2017

John Akomfrah with artwork Auto Da Fé © Polly Thomas

John Akomfrah with artwork Auto Da Fé © Polly Thomas

Images of the winner are available here

Press images are available here

UK, contemporary-artist John Akomfrah has been chosen from a shortlist of 6 of the world’s most important artists to win the UK’s leading prize for international contemporary art, Artes Mundi 7.

For release 22.00 GMT on Thursday 26th January 2017: Ken Skates AM, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, announced John Akomfrah as the winner of the biennial award, with a prize sum of £40,000, at a ceremony held at National Museum Cardiff.

John Akomfrah’s work often explores the global diaspora, history, memory, colonialism and its legacy through lens-based media. The range of single and multiscreen films allows us to reconsider the ways in which we think about both personal and collective histories, the grand narratives of our times, across nation states and continents. His work has often given voice to underrepresented communities and their universal stories told through the creation of sublime imagery, and evocative and immersive soundtracks.

In Auto Da Fé (2016) Akomfrah specifically uses the aesthetics of a period drama to consider the historical and contemporary causes of migration; in this work he focuses on religious persecution as a major cause of global displacement. The subtle historical references combined with its sumptuous costumes, locations and sets, allude to the reality of migration and persecution that has taken place throughout the centuries.

The film brings together 8 interconnected mass migrations which have taken place during the past 400 years beginning with the little known 1654 fleeing of Sephardic Jews from Catholic Brazil to Barbados. Auto Da Fé then continues to reveal many more examples of displacement throughout history and in the present day for example migrations from Hombori, Mali and Mosul, Iraq. The landscape in which this work was filmed is deliberately ambiguous in an attempt to reflect the universal and ongoing nature of these stories. As in other recent works such as Tropikos (2016) and Vertigo Sea (2015) the ocean plays an important role – it is an intermediate zone between the past and present, local and global and holds the memories of all those individual and collective journeys.

John Akomfrah winner of Artes Mundi 7 has said, “I am absolutely touched by this and enormously grateful for the chance it offers to finally finish off something I have been planning for over a decade. Over the years, Artes Mundi has  chosen  some very brilliant artists for this award:  all were important artists doing challenging and engaged work, and to join that group is a huge honour and responsibility.”


Karen Mackinnon, Artes Mundi Director has said, “We are delighted to announce John Akomfrah as the winner of the seventh biennial Artes Mundi Prize.  Artes Mundi champions leading contemporary artists, from across the world, whose work relates to every aspect of our personal lives in a global society. Artes Mundi’s focus on the human condition finds a unique resonance in these uncertain times. We want to thank our panel of judges for their sensitivity, thoroughness and intellectual rigour in selecting the winner.  The judges felt that all the shortlisted artists showed outstanding work.  However the prize is awarded not just for the work in the exhibition but for the continued excellence of their practice over the past 8 years. The Artes Mundi 7 Prize was awarded for Akomfrah’s presentation of Auto Da Fé and for a substantial body of outstanding work dealing with issues of migration, racism and religious persecution. To speak of these things in this particular moment feels more important than ever.”

Oliver Basciano, Artes Mundi 7 Judging Chair has said,We are excited to award John Akomfrah the Artes Mundi7 prize in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to art over the past eight years. We do so in recognition of both his newly-presented work Auto Da Fé (2016) and in appreciation of the artist’s ability to tell stories with historical depth, exploring social and political concerns through exquisite cinematic language in films such as Peripteia (2012), Unfinished Conversation (2013), Vertigo Sea (2015). Over his long career, Akomfrah’s practice underlines how art has the unique ability to reflect on and shape the human condition, in alignment with fundamental principles of Artes Mundi.”


John Akomfrah’s work alongside the other shortlisted works are on display at National Museum Cardiff and Chapter until 26th February.


Praise for Artes Mundi 7

Totally eclipsed and outclassed the Turner PrizeThe Independent

The UK’s most relevant and ground-breaking contemporary art prizeSTYLIST

The prize is quietly stealing into Turner Prize territoryThe Daily Telegraph




About the prize

Artes Mundi the UK’s biggest prize for contemporary art. The prize recognises and celebrates international-contemporary artists who engage with the human condition, social reality and lived experience.

Runners up: Neïl Beloufa, Nástio Mosquito, Lamia Joreige, Bedwyr Williams & Amy Franceschini/Futurefarmers

Judging chair: Oliver Basciano

Judging panel: Ann Jones, Phil Collins, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Carolyn Chritov-Bakargiev & Nick Aikens

Previous winners:  Theaster Gates (Artes Mundi6), Teresa Margolles (Artes Mundi5), Yael Bartana (Artes Mundi4), N S Harsha (Artes Mundi3), Eija-Liisa Ahtila (Artes Mundi2) and Xu Bing (Artes Mundi1)


About the exhibition

Runs: 21st October 2016 – 26th February 2017

Venues: National Museum of Art, National Museum Cardiff, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP / Chapter, Market Road, Cardiff CF5 1QE

Opening Times (Museum): Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00am – 5.00pm

Information: | +44 (0) 29 2055 5300 | @artesmundi

Admission: Free


About Artes Mundi

Artes Mundi is an international arts organisation based in Cardiff, UK. Established in 2002, Artes Mundi is committed to supporting ground breaking, international, contemporary, visual artists whose work engages with social reality and lived experience.  Artes Mundi Exhibition and prize takes place biennially, running a sustained programme of outreach and learning projects alongside the public exhibition and prize giving. In 2015 the Artes Mundi 6 Prize was awarded to Theaster Gates. Previous winners were Teresa Margolles (2012), Yael Bartana (2010), N S Harsha (2008), Eija-Liisa Ahtila (2006) and Xu Bing (2004).

Artes Mundi is publicly funded by the Arts Council of Wales and by Cardiff City Council. Other funders include The Colwinston Charitable Trust, The Waterloo Foundation, The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Myristica Trust, Garfield Weston and The Foyle Foundation. Further information about our partners can be obtained by contacting Midas Public Relations, details below.

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