In his first major solo exhibition, British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong has taken over Margate’s Turner Contemporary to present Wayfinder. As a multidisciplinary artist whose work spans the mediums of moving image, sculptural installation, photography and collage this showcase delves deeper into Achiampong’s exploration of heritage and the African diaspora.
Spread across the top floor of the gallery and split into four sections signified by native pan-African colours yellow, red, green and black, it’s as much a portrait of personal history as it is an endeavour to answer the universal question of what it truly means to be home.
Still, ‘Wayfinder’ by Larry Achiampong, 2022
Centred around the debut of Wayfinder, Achiampong’s first feature film – telling the story of a young girl travelling across England in a pandemic stricken world, beginning at Hadrian’s Wall and eventually reaching the coast of Margate – the gallery space has been crafted to perform its own role in the narrative as seating formations create a dismembered map of the UK, representing the fractured relationships within a nation. Starring Perside Rodrigues, the plot builds a narrative that dissects themes such as cultural heritage and displacement, Achiampong tells us of his first feature project; “I wanted to create a film with a conversation that sat at a much more local level, thinking very much regionally, thinking about England, the United Kingdom and that relationship with travel, the relationship with the journey and so on.”
Wayfinder: Larry Achiampog at Turner Contemporary
This idea of home carries through the exhibition, as the largest display to date of Larry’s ongoing project Relic Traveller documents an alliance of pan-African travellers venturing to collect stories from those who have been marginalised by colonialism, capitalism and globalisation. Accompanying this exhibit, on the adjacent wall is a photographic collage series titled Glyth, in which Achiampong distorts images from his personal family archive with cartoonish circles and red lip motifs. Sparked by the prominence of Robertson’s racially-charged Golliwog mascot, “I was thinking a lot about that experience of being othered, that experience of racism through popular culture,” says Achiampong, “I began to do research into the Robertson brand and I found out that the CEO, dating back to just before World War I, had travelled to the US and became really inspired by the American Minstrel shows.” The series acts as a commentary on an individual experience of growing up in East London during the 80s and the racial prejudice that unfortunately came along with it.
Still, ‘Relic 2’ by Larry Achiampong 2017
As an avid gamer whose fascination with the fictional world plays a weighty role in his creative practice, an immersive space filled with playable consoles that inspired his work adds a personal touch to the exhibit. Larry tells us the idea was a no brainer; “One of the first things I got talking about was, “Why don’t we have a series of video games up in here?” He continues, “Games that connect to the developmental process of Wayfinder first of all, but also my interest in journeys within a communal environment. Going back to the 80s and 90s, moments in time when online gaming didn’t exist, so if you’re playing a multi-player game you’re playing next to someone else, you were travelling across environments together.”
The gallery also invited Achiampong into the archives of J.M.W. Turner to personally curate a collection of his works. Selecting a group of oil paintings, watercolours, engravings and sketchbooks predominantly from Turner’s British tours portraying many of the locations that feature in Wayfinder. While creatively, admiration for the British romantic cannot be denied, Achimapong unearths Turner’s problematic involvement in the slave trade that often goes unnoticed. When speaking of works such as Studies of a Black Servant (1807–10), Achiampong notes; “The capturing of Black life and especially death in that work; for me, there is certainly a repugnance about that. Although I am aware of how celebrated the painting is, these points create separation for me.”
Pan-African Flag For The Relic Travellers’ Alliance, 2017, by Larry Achiampong
For such a large scale exhibit, Wayfinder manages to feel intimate as we’re taken on a fictional journey very much rooted in reality.
Wayfinder: Larry Achiampog runs at the Turner Contemporary until June 19th, more info here.