John Akomfrah wins Artes Mundi 7 prize

British contemporary-artist John Akomfrah OBE has been chosen from a shortlist of six artists to win the UK’s most valuable prize for international contemporary art, Artes Mundi 7. Ken Skates, Welsh Government cabinet secretary for economy and infrastructure, announced Akomfrah as the winner of the biennial award, and its £40,000 prize, at a ceremony held at National Museum Cardiff on Thursday evening. The other shortlisted artists were Neïl Beloufa, Nástio Mosquito, Lamia Joreige, Bedwyr Williams and Amy Franceschini/Futurefarmers.

Over more than three decades, Akomfrah’s film and video work has explored the experiences of global diaspora, history, memory, colonialism and its legacy. His recent two-screen film Auto Da Fé (2016), on show at Nation Museum Cardiff as part of Artes Mundi 7, uses the aesthetics of period drama to consider the historical and contemporary causes of migration, focusing on religious persecution as a cause of global displacement.

Karen MacKinnon, director of Artes Mundi, said: “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, International editor of ArtReview and chair of the judging panel, commented: “Over his long career, Akomfrah’s practice underlines how art has the unique ability to reflect on and shape the human condition, principles fundamental to Artes Mundi.”

Of the award, Akomfrah 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.”

Artes Mundi is the UK’s most valuable prize for contemporary art, established in 2002 by the Cardiff-based Artes Mundi organisation. Artes Mundi supports visual artists whose work engages with social reality and lived experience. Previous winners have included Theaster Gates, Teresa Margolles, Yael Bartana and Xu Bing. The judging panel comprised Arts Council Collection curator Ann Jones, artist Phil Collins, curator and academic Elvira Dyangani Ose, curator Carolyn Chritov-Bakargiev and Nick Aiken, curator at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.

26 January 2017