Filmmaker John Akomfrah screens two of his films. The Call of Mist (Redux), set on a remote Scottish island, is an elegy to his late mother and a vivid meditation on death, memory and cloning. Initially commissioned in 1998 for the BBC, the 2012 re-edited version incorporates additional images that were removed from the television version, recovering Akomfrah’s original conception. Handsworth Songs (1986) is a richly layered documentary representing the hopes and dreams of post-war Black British people in the light of the civil disturbances of the 1980s. It engages with Britain’s colonial past, public and private memories, and the struggles of race and class. The title refers to the riots in Handsworth, Birmingham during September 1985. The soundtrack is influenced by reggae, punk and the post-industrial noise movement. Black Audio Film Collective was founded in 1982 by a group of sociology, psychology and fine art students. The Collective undertook all aspects of production and distribution of their films.

After the screening, watch a pre-recorded conversation between Akomfrah and Tina Campt.

Black Earth is a film series organized by Princeton’s Dorothy Krauklis ’78 Professor of Visual Arts Deana Lawson in collaboration with Visiting Professor in the Program in Visual Arts and the Department of Art and Archaeology Tina Campt. It aspires to a twofold intervention in how we envision the multiple ecologies of our planet. On the one hand, it is a meditation on Earth’s landscape through a deep dive into one of the primary materials that supports and sustains it: soil. It engages soil in its most elevated state, as nutrient rich black soil that nurtures and enriches a multitude of species. On the other hand, it hones in on Earth as a social ecology inhabited, shaped, and enlivened by Black genius. The series includes films by Khalik Allah, Rob Herring, Kahlil Joseph and John Akomfrah and curated conversations with the filmmakers and a selection of their collaborators.

The Black Earth series is supported through the John Sacret Young ’69 Lecture Series fund. This event is cosponsored by Princeton’s Department of Art & Archaeology.

Join the Event

The conversation and screening event is free and open to the public. Advance tickets required; reserve tickets through University Ticketing.

Get directions to the James Stewart Film Theater and find other venue information for 185 Nassau Street.

COVID-19 Guidance + Updates

Per Princeton University policy, all guests are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to the maximum extent, which now includes a COVID booster shot for all eligible to receive it, and to wear a mask when indoors. Please note that the speakers may be unmasked while presenting onstage.


symbol for wheelchair accessibilityThe event space is wheelchair accessible. Visit our Venues and Studios section for accessibility information at our various locations. Guests in need of access accommodations are asked to contact the Lewis Center at at least one week prior to the event date.



*Banner image: Black Audio Film Collective, John Akomfrah; Handsworth Songs, 1986; single channel 16mm color film transferred to video, sound; 58 minutes 33 seconds; © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery.

About John Akomfrah

john akomfrah sits by desk with laptop with hands folded at chest

John Akomfrah at his London studio, 2016. Photo courtesy Smoking Dogs Films / Lisson Gallery

John Akomfrah is a respected artist and filmmaker whose works are characterized by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics and often explore the experiences of migrant diasporas globally. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today. Their first film, Handsworth Songs (1986) explored the events surrounding the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London through a charged combination of archive footage, still photos and newsreel. The film won several international prizes and established a multi-layered visual style that has become a recognizable motif of Akomfrah’s practice. Other works include the three-screen installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), a moving portrait of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s life and work; Peripeteia (2012), an imagined drama visualizing the lives of individuals included in two 16th century portraits by Albrecht Dürer and Mnemosyne (2010) which exposes the experience of migrants in the UK, questioning the notion of Britain as a promised land by revealing the realities of economic hardship and casual racism.

In 2015, Akomfrah premiered his three-screen film installation Vertigo Sea (2015), which explores what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls ‘the sublime seas’. Fusing archival material, readings from classical sources and newly shot footage, Akomfrah’s piece focuses on the disorder and cruelty of the whaling industry and juxtaposes it with scenes of many generations of migrants making epic crossings of the ocean for a better life. In 2017, he presented his film installation Purple at the Barbican in London. The six-channel video installation addresses climate change, human communities and the wilderness. Akomfrah debuted Precarity (2017) at Prospect 4 New Orleans, following the life of forgotten New Orleans jazz singer Charles ‘Buddy’ Bolden. In 2019, on the occasion of his participation at the first Ghana Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, Akomfrah presented Four Nocturnes a three-channel piece that reflects on the complex intertwined relationship between humanity’s destruction of the natural world and our destruction of ourselves.

Akomfrah lives and works in London. He has had numerous solo exhibitions and participated in many international group shows in Norway, South Korea, Taiwan, and Italy, among others. His work has been featured in international film festivals including Sundance in 2011 and 2013, and Toronto in 2012. He was awarded the Artes Mundi Prize in 2017.

Presented By

  • Department of Art and Archaeology
  • Program in Visual Arts