Friday, 6 December 2013

The Unfinished Conversation

I went to see this film installation the other day at the Tate Britain. It was so incredibly powerful and moving. Tate always seems to show the best and most thought-provoking films. The last film I saw at the Tate was 'All Divided Selves' by Luke Fowler, a film exploring the life and work of Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing. It was a film that left me questioning some very deep rooted idea's that I'd held about notions such as 'madness', similarly The Unfinished Conversation left me thinking very deeply about identity.

John Akomfrah, The Unfinished Conversation still image in forest

The Unfinished Conversation really made me think about a lot of things, especially the idea of 'belonging' and trying to find oneself. I've always been fascinated by Stuart Hall and his cultural theories, this film epitomised so much of his work through personal memories, it really captured in an almost holistic way what it means to be human, to just be---- to exist in this crazy mixed up world.

John Akomfrah, The Unfinished Conversation still image in forest

The theme of race and interracial relationships was also really striking, the trauma both Stuart Hall and his Caucasian wife faced for just simple being married and loving each other was really saddening, as were the parallels to Hall's sister's predicament, being forbidden to marry a black doctor whom she was in love with solely owing to the colour of his skin, and consequently being admitted into an institution. 

We've come a long way! But have we really? What really got me about the film, is how little has changed in the last 50 years, its plain to see a large part of society (across all communities and generations) still seem to be just as ignorant and backwards. The prejudices people face for simply /being/ of colour, or /being/ married to someone of a different race, or /being/ born and brought up in a certain area, or /being/ of an 'other' class- or speaking in a certain manner, or possessing certain 'alien' qualities, or belonging to a certain faith--- /being/ a Muslim, or Jew or a Jedi--- shocking are the depth and breadth of societies prejudices. Shocking how un-accepting people are! How much nicer of a place the world would be if we just live and let live---- if we stopped trying to place labels on others to make ourselves feel more secure. If we stopped 'othering;' being 'othered' and just be.

And what was really ironic (to a point downright humorous), was after watching the film, when a friend and I went to visit the Painting Now exhibition and the man at the desk eyed us suspiciously and spent a long time just looking at the card- hmmm, really?...---and being visibly different, this does happen quite a lot- but listen, I've never ever been one to fall back on to a victim mentally. You just learn to get on with it. With being different. With being you. Screw society, I said to myself a long long time ago! And since I have continued to just do what I do. You can BE whoever you want to BE. Your identity or non-identity belongs to you alone, and none can dictate what that is!

I really can't recommend this film enough! Please watch it! (It's free and on till March!) More info below.

This three-screen video installation investigates cultural, ethnic and personal identity through the memories of cultural theorist Stuart Hall

In the multi-layered installation The Unfinished Conversation, the British artist, film-maker and writer John Akomfrah (born 1957) investigates how identity is not an essence or being but instead a ‘becoming’, a product of history and memory. He explores the personal archive of the influential and acclaimed cultural theorist Stuart Hall (born 1932 Kingston, Jamaica), for whom identity and ethnicity are not fixed, but are the subject of an ‘ever-unfinished conversation’.

Unfolding over three screens, Hall discusses his discovery of a personal and political identity. Arriving in Britain from Jamaica as a student in 1951, by 1968 he would be one of the founding figures of the new left, a key architect of cultural studies and one of Britain’s foremost public intellectuals. Akomfrah weaves issues of cultural identity using a wide range of references that overlay the soundtrack and archive footage of Hall, interweaving his biography with historical events. These include references to William Blake, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Mervyn Peake, Jazz and Gospel, set alongside news footage from the 1960s and 1970s.