Duration 66m 57s Published
John Akomfrah: Precarity
Commissioned for the Collection
The Nasher Museum presented Precarity, a new three-channel video installation created by John Akomfrah, a London-based artist and filmmaker. Precarity works with the themes of risk, hybridity and the unfathomable to explore the city of New Orleans through the remarkable life and times of Charles “Buddy” Bolden, the first person known to have explored the sonic tonalities of the music we now call jazz.
Beginning in 1900, Buddy Bolden was the most popular musician in New Orleans, playing everywhere from Uptown to Storyville. Celebrated for his raucously loud coronet, innovative improvisation and down-and-dirty style, “King Bolden” reigned until 1907, when he was permanently committed to the State Insane Asylum in Jackson, Louisiana, with schizophrenia. An almost mythical figure, he left behind no known recordings and only a couple of grainy images.
Precarity is consequently as much a ghost story as it is a portrait of a historical figure. It is also a lyrical exploration of the city that gave rise to jazz, the preeminent art form of the 20th century—a development that owed itself, in large part, to New Orleans’s position as a cultural crossroads. Akomfrah has also situated Precarity at a crossroads, or intersection, of genres: namely, of the film essay, the historical documentary, the costume drama and the music video. In that fertile space, Precarity presents a sonographic and visual history of Bolden and his legend, the emergence of jazz and the incomparable city of New Orleans.
Akomfrah is known for his distinctive, polyrhythmic visual and sonic style. His work moves across cultures to seamlessly meld history with mythology, the archival with the contemporary and image with sound. Recognized as a trailblazer in the world of British cinema, he makes films that challenge prevailing narratives and gives voice to underrepresented communities.
In 1982, Akomfrah cofounded the influential and forward-looking Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC) with Lina Gopaul and several other artists; although the BAFC disbanded in 1988, Akomfrah still collaborates today with Gopaul and their longtime partner David Lawson through their production company Smoking Dogs Films. In 2017, Akomfrah won the UK’s Artes Mundi Prize.
— Trevor Schoonmaker, Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum, and Artistic Director of Prospect.4.
Excerpted from Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, the catalogue edited by Schoonmaker to accompany Prospect.4, the citywide triennial in New Orleans, on view from November 18, 2017, through February 25, 2018. This work premiered at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, as part of Prospect.4 and is now part of the Nasher Museum’s collection.
This exhibition was organized by Trevor Schoonmaker, Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art.
Precarity was originally commissioned for the 2017 New Orleans Triennial, Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, curated by Schoonmaker. Its presentation was made possible by Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger and the VIA Art Fund, with additional support from the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, and Smoking Dogs Films.
At the Nasher Museum, Precarity was supported by the Marilyn M. Arthur Fund; Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Family Fund for Exhibitions; Frank Edward Hanscom Endowment Fund; Neely Family Fund; and Parker & Otis.
But if P.4 has produced a masterpiece, it’s John Akomfrah’s video installation, Precarity, one of many new commissions at the triennial.
view article on Garage by Vice | Published November 21, 2017
Akomfrah’s long, slow takes of unspeaking costumed actors—sometimes overlooking the modern city—intercut with shots of antique photos and documents submersed in a running stream, and accompanied by a soundtrack with suggestive poetry in the musician’s voice, bring Bolden back to enthralling, if still fundamentally unknowable, life.Joseph R. Wolin, Garage by Vice
“I felt a kind of debt to this figure who’d I’d inadvertently robbed of his rightful place in the pantheon of jazz.” – John Akomfrah
view article on Modern Art Notes Podcast with Host Tyler Green | Published May 07, 2018
"In two weeks the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University will exhibit Akomfrah’s 'Precarity,' which debuted at Prospect.4." -- Tyler Green
view article on Modern Art Notes Podcast with Host Tyler Green | Published March 15, 2018
John Akomfrah Blends Historical Witness and Imagination to Resurrect a New Orleans Jazz Legend at the Nasher
"Like the best of Akomfrah's films, Precarity complicates the narratives of cultural memory and erasure, fiction and truth, assimilation and refusal." -- Laura Jaramillo
view article on IndyWeek | Published May 09, 2018