Seeing Differently: John Akomfrah

The Phillips Collection engages with local voices by asking community members to write labels in response to works in the collection. Read some here on the blog and also in the galleries of Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century. How do these perspectives help you see differently? What would you write about these artworks?

John Akomfrah, Transfigured Night, 2013, Two channel HD color video installation, 5.1 sound, 26 minutes 31 seconds, Ed. 2 of 5, The Phillips Collection, The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions, 2019

A passionate string sextet, a Late Romantic poem in five stanzas, “Five Allegories on the Narcoleptic State.”

What unites these contradictory visions?

What truths of human existence are reflected?

Transfigured night.

Darkness to light. Fear to love. Sacrifice to redemption. Misery to ecstasy. Immanence to transcendence.

Or is it the opposite?

A retrograde inversion?

A forgotten or neglected promise.

Emancipation. Democracy. Freedom. Self-sustainability. The Land. Equality. Justice. Unalienable rights. Life. Liberty. Happiness.

Fast forward to 2020 and one too many brutal police slayings of an African-American.

There is beauty and truth in ambiguity. Contrasting colors, sounds, and rhythms. Motion and stasis, darkness and light. Multi-dominance—like the myriad contrasting patterns and colors in much African art and music. The non-linear/cyclical narrative.

Holding a mirror to Romantic and Democratic ideals.

Will our night be transfigured?

Will we ever stop striving? Yearning?

Myra Melford, Pianist and Composer

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