John Akomfrah: Tropikos presents the artist’s 2016 film Tropikos, which examines the original encounter between European explorers and the people of Africa in the 16th century. This large-scale video installation was filmed in the Tamar Valley and Plymouth, England—a location with significant, if often forgotten, ties to the slave industry: it is where the first British slaving excursion set sail for Africa. The region and its waterways would become England’s primary hub for the slave trade, serving as the point of departure for numerous major expeditions and as the base for the industry’s bureaucratic functions.
Tropikos unfolds as a series of rich tableaux vivants—still, silent scenes—that intermix characters and objects from African and European contexts. These transpositions suggest the inseparability of colonizer and colonized, while reminding us of the extent to which the prosperity and power of Western centers hinged on the violent subjugation of non-Western peoples. The film’s voiceovers are drawn from the writings of various historical European seafarers, as well as passages from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. These interwoven texts, juxtaposed with the lavishly depicted inversion of cultures and peoples, inject the film with a hallucinatory quality, offering a hyperreal waking dream of the 1500s. John Akomfrah: Tropikos marks the North American debut of this film.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website