British artist, filmmaker and writer John Akomfrah investigates how identity can be seen as a product of history and memory rather than something fixed. The installation is based on the personal archive of the influential and acclaimed cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932–2014), who described identity and ethnicity as being the subject of an ‘ever-unfinished conversation’.
Unfolding over three screens, Akomfrah’s film shows Hall talking about his discovery of a personal and political identity. Arriving in Britain from Jamaica as a student in 1951, by 1968 Hall would be one of the founding figures of the new left political movement, a key architect of cultural studies and one of Britain’s foremost public intellectuals. Akomfrah uses a wide range of material alongside archival footage of Hall, interweaving his biography with historical events, readings and music. These include references to artists and writers such as William Blake, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Mervyn Peake, as well as jazz and gospel music, and news footage from the 1960s and 1970s.
Identifying with Hall, Akomfrah said: ‘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.’