John Akomfrah


John Akomfrah, Testament

10 – 16 March

Testament (1988), 77 min

Two decades after been forced into exile by the coup d’état in 1966, which ended President Kwame Nkrumah’s experiment in African socialism, activist turned television reporter Abena returns to Ghana to confront her memories and the country she left behind. Adrift in a ‘war zone of memories’, Abena is caught in the tension between public history and private memory that characterises  the emotional landscape of postcolonial trauma.

Testament begins with the following text:

The Gold Coast became Ghana in 1957. Led by a charismatic leader, Kwame Nkrumah, the C.P.P. commenced the first experiment in ‘African Socialism’.

The C.P.P. (Conventional People’s Party) became the inspiration for other liberation movements in Africa.

The party was overthrown in 1966 by a military coup.

This scenario has haunted African politics since.

Black, blue and red are Ghanaian colours of mourning.

Rivers are GA Gods/Goddesses of memory

‘All we have left is the place the attachment to the place we still rule over the ruins of temples… if we lose the ruins nothing will be left.’

Zbegniew Herbert, Report from a Besieged City – and Other Poems


Kwame Nkrumah’s presence haunts the film:

“Never before in history has such a sweeping fervor for freedom expressed itself in great mass movements which are driving down the bastions of empire. This wind of change blowing through Africa, as I have said before, is no ordinary wind. It is a raging hurricane against which the old order cannot stand […] The great millions of Africa, and of Asia, have grown impatient of being hewers of wood and drawers of water, and are rebelling against the false belief that providence created some to be menials of others. Hence the twentieth century has become the century of colonial emancipation, the century of continuing revolution which must finally witness the total liberation of Africa from colonial rule and imperialist exploitation.”

“We face neither East nor West; we face forward.”

“We prefer self-government with danger to servitude and tranquility.”


John Akomfrah:

“We went to Ghana to try to make a film about Kwame Nkrumah, but also about a movement and a body of ideas that simply don’t exist any more. They’d been swept away not just by the force of historical events but also by attempts on the part of successive governments after Nkrumah’s to basically bury the man and all that he stood for. There is something metaphorically significant in that act because so much of diasporic history rests precisely in that gap between history and myth.”


Section VI from Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History (1940)


“To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognise it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger … Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.”

Transfigured Night (2013), John Akomfrah’s two-screen installation exploring the disappointments of post-Independence Africa, is currently on view at Carroll / Fletcher as part of a group exhibition featuring work by Phoebe Boswell and Rashaad Newsome. Click here for further information on the exhibition.

Click here to view John Akomfrah’s artist page at Carroll / Fletcher.