Presented as a poetic period drama, the film connects a series of eight historical migrations over the last 400 years, starting with the little known 1654 fleeing of Sephardic Jews from Catholic Brazil to Barbados. As the film develops, we are presented with tale after tale of populations being displaced along religious lines, right up to the present day migrations from Hombori, Mali and Mosul, Iraq. Religion, persecution and migration are, it seems, old and continuing bedfellows. The work was filmed on location in Barbados, but the landscape is deliberately anonymous, reflecting the universal nature of these stories. In Auto Da Fé, like in Tropikos, 2016 and inVertigo Sea, 2015, the ocean plays an important role. It is symbolized as an intermediate zone between the past and the present, the particular and the general, the local and the global and as an oblique site of memory for the modern diasporic subject.
Auto Da Fé is presented next to Handsworth Songs (1986), the film which put the work of Black Audio Film Collective on the map. The film explores the 1985 riots in Handsworth (Birmingham) and Tottenham (London) through a charged combination of archival material, sound design and footage shot by the Collective during and after the riots. It attracted a huge audience when shown at Tate Modern in the wake of the 2011 London riots. The societal topics it addresses, from migration to social and economic disenfranchisement and suppression, and racial violence, seem more pressing than ever.
ArtForum article: https://artforum.com/inprint/id=57462
LISSON GALLERY: http://www.lissongallery.com/artists/john-akomfrah