‘Learning of My Fragility’: Artist Larry Achiampong’s Letters to His Children

‘Reliquary Conceptual Imagery’, 2020. Created by Larry Achiampong. Illustrated by Wumi Olaosebikan. Courtesy the artist and Copperfield, London

‘I aim to treat the present with a consideration and dignity absent in the treatment of my ancestor’s narratives’

The text that follows forms the script for a new and highly personal videowork continuing the artist’s ongoing Relic Traveller series, a multidisciplinary project manifesting in performance, audio, moving image and prose. Begun in 2017, this speculative project builds upon a postcolonial perspective informed by technology, agency and the body, and narratives of migration. Mixing the sublime with the traumatic, it explores past, present and future, through narratives of Pan Africanism and African diasporic identity in relation to colonialism, postcolonialism and the heightened nationalism of current times.

The text itself is based on testimonies to the artist’s children, composed in direct response to their enforced period of separation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reliquary Conceptual Imagery, 2020. Created by Larry Achiampong. Illustrated by Wumi Olaosebikan. Courtesy the artist and Copperfield, London

Larry Achiampong, Reliquary 2

Ancestry and familial relationships are integral to my examination of the postcolonial identity. Previously revisiting memories of the past with my mother, this piece is consciously projected towards the future, using the present to provide and shape a dialogue with my children. I am interested in how diasporic histories have been displaced by colonialism and postcolonial structures. In engaging an intergenerational dialogue, I aim to treat the present with a consideration and dignity, absent in the treatment of my ancestor’s narratives. This work continues the themes of my Relic Traveller series, interrogating colonial architectures that have been divisive in dividing diasporic communities. The current lockdown poses a unique set of challenges to the postcolonial identity, denying it its innate sense of migration and dynamism. Agency and technology have been a primary focus in my practice and have eerie contemporary relevance, where imposed isolation has denied a certain corporeality and autonomy. Sensitive to the stasis this quarantine period has provided, the eventual film will trace how technology has become embedded within our daily lives, an intimate projection of the self.

Reliquary Conceptual Imagery, 2020. Created by Larry Achiampong. Illustrated by Wumi Olaosebikan. Courtesy the artist and Copperfield, London

I can only write at nighttime these days, when most things
are asleep, on standby, still, numb, dead.
So much of life feels slow lately – it might seem odd, but my
body is glad.
As I write this letter to you two, y’all are likely laying, dreaming,
as youngsters should.
And I smile, thinking about all the kinds of possibles and
parallels that await yourselves.
But I cannot hold those thoughts for long, they keep getting
My mind is dizzying out and I’m traumatised at the imminent
dangers we face.
All of a sudden so many of the comics or videogames I’ve
consumed feel evermore prophetic to what is happening now.

I was meant to write to you both for a long time.
But the world was moving too fast.
Growing up in that toxic grip, you race hard or fall behind
with the dust.
Countless souls trying to bend against the fierce current.
Without an understanding of the elements.
Resulting in masses of petrified bodies crushed beneath
the wave’s momentum.

I think that is the problem of living or growing in the old world.
To have to try to be strong always.
To have to be consistently resilient.
To have to be so elastic as to repel all attacks.
Born into a machine that will try to turn your lights out at the
hint of any resistance to its ways.

Yet here all of a sudden, time as we know it has become formless.
And the great Big Ben folds slowly like marshmallow, melting
and flowing into itself.
Who’d have thought a disease would have the power to freeze
the clock?

I wonder how you two will look back at this moment
in the future?
I don’t think it’s over by a long shot.
The next chapter in this comic is just getting written.
And nobody’s laughing. Cos they can’t see the boogieman.

How do so many governments have capital, stockpiles and
contingency for war?
But no real plan to protect the people they serve in the event
of a pandemic?

This disease doesn’t care who its victims are.
Our government and plenty others continue to put profit
over people.
Convincing us to go to restaurants.
While poorer families dealt the worst conditions are left
to fend for themselves.
If this year were to be thought of symbolically, maybe the
disease has exposed truths that have been long buried
underneath the carpet.
Truths that might not be able to live in the old world
we inhabited.

I am worried. As if life wasn’t hard enough for us before.
We make 3% of this island nation’s population, but we’re
4 more times likely to die from this disease.
How can that be anything other than the legacy of racism
How can anybody argue that what is seen on social media
day-to-day aren’t snuff films?
Why has this terror become a normality delivered by vultures
parading as journalists on the high-definition screens
we own?
And still, justice is not finding its way to black people?

Reliquary Conceptual Imagery, 2020. Created by Larry Achiampong. Illustrated by Wumi Olaosebikan. Courtesy the artist and Copperfield, London

I haven’t seen you in many months because your mother and
I agree that we don’t know the true potential of this thing
– but I have to help your Nana, also.
She asks when she will see you again.
The authority told us not to worry for children, and yet children
have died.
They told us not to worry for people with breathing problems
in the beginning, and yet those with such issues have died.
Our doctors and nurses are getting protected by Blighty with
And our elders are being sold down the river.

We have never experienced anything like this beyond the fourth
What will you make of all that has happened in these last few
months, let alone years to come? Are the years to come?
I can no longer dive too far forward; the future is a big blurry
But I have to believe that somehow there is a way, or I will
descend further into the sunken pit.

And so, I think about you two.
The Furious Ocean wraps itself around the Kid Mountain
– the Dynamic Duo.
Your names were equally born from coincidences that have
marinated beautifully with time.
Our pride, our love, our joy stands in the two of you.
We carry the honour to share another moment in this life cycle.

Ironically as it may seem – learning of my fragility has brought
the hope of freedom ever-present.
Where you and I come from, we know that we are not here
forever, at least not in the flesh-based forms we are told
to believe in here.
Before the planet began to tremble, so many of us lived in a way
that we believed we might exist forever.
Perhaps the promise that we will return to the red earth in the
cycle is too chilling to comprehend.

Reliquary Conceptual Imagery, 2020. Created by Larry Achiampong. Illustrated by Wumi Olaosebikan. Courtesy the artist and Copperfield, London

There is so much more I want to say.
There are many teachings that I hope you learn from
my failures.
I pray that there will be a future for that.
But nobody owns time.
Protect your mother.
Stand for black womxn.
None of this is possible without them.

I sit here smiling, at the memories of joyous antics and laughter
that bursts from your souls, as you share your gaming
sessions upon lava-imagined space-fuelled adventures.
And my heart bursts with the stars.
This is where I can breathe.
This is everything.
A balm to my aura.
I am calm. Serenaded.
I am ready.
We are ready.

Most recent


We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. This includes personalizing content. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, revised Privacy.