We welcome you to enjoy an online talk with artist Larry Achiampong and Contra la Raza [Against Race] Co-Curator Katherine Finerty that accompanied a special screening of the five films currently comprising Achiamping’s evolving Relic Traveller series, a multi-disciplinary project manifesting in performance, audio, moving image and prose.
Achiampong’s body of work served as both a physical platform and speculative landscape for Contra la Raza, centring multidisciplinary approaches in telling decolonial narratives about identity, migration, technology, agency and imagination. His Relic Traveller series has been evolving since 2017 as a multi-site project mixing visual poetry with generational healing. It explores the past, present and future through narratives of Pan Africanism and African diasporic identity in relation to colonialism, postcolonialism and the heightened nationalism of current times.
This conversation includes explorations of how the artist first dreamed of this ambitious project, what the word “relic” means to Achiampong, the narrative development of the series, an ideology of 'Sankofa Time' in lieu of Afrofuturism, how fabrication blurs fantasy and reality, the evolution of the Pan African Flags For The Relic Travellers' Alliance, how the current socio-political climate and ideas about nationalism and unity inform this body of work, how Achiampong's diasporas cultural roots impacts the stories created, and how key themes including legacy and technology achieve an intergenerational dialogue ultimately full of hope.
Relic Traveller Series Screening, Contra la Raza [Against Race] live programme, Cineteca Madrid, 2021. Courtesy of Matadero Madrid and The Showroom, London. Photo: Fernando Tribiño
The Contra la Raza [Against Race] exhibition evoked futuristic imaginaries expressed through poetics of the Black experience, generating new forms of global and egalitarian humanism. The live programme, curated by Katherine Finerty in collaboration with Raúl Muñoz de la Vega, took as its departure point the exhibition curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose and The Showroom, London for PHotoESPAÑA 2021. This multidisciplinary initiative incorporated a video-based installation and live programme appealing to our collective consciousness to advocate for the establishment of a new planetary humanism.
Contra la Raza [Against Race] questioned how imagery in audiovisual formats communicates from a global Black and Pan-Africanist perspective. Inspired by the eponymous book by British historian Paul Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line (2000), the live programme of events included screenings, conversations and performances addressing the fundamental role played by decolonial and anti-racist movements in the historical and contemporary fight for human rights, appealing to our collective consciousness to advocate for the establishment of a new planetary humanism.
Relic 0, Larry Achiampong, UK, 2017, 10’, DCP
Relic 0 is the prelude to Larry Achiampong’s Relic Traveller: Phase 1. It is a short film that moves between African and Western based vistas and focuses on specific architectures of colonialism as delivered by an anonymous narrator. These discoveries deliver poetic moments of the sublime met with increasingly harrowing tales of trauma – speaking to the sinister way that states of anxiety, fear and displacement are both generated and policed in postcolonial society. The throb of the electronic score and ringing clarity of the narrator’s testimony usher in a new landscape and temporality, born from cracks in a traumatised, apocalyptic present. Relic 0 is an artwork made possible with funding from Southbank Centre | Hayward Gallery, Jerwood Charitable Foundation & Arts Council England.
Relic 1, Larry Achiampong, UK, 2017, 14’, DCP
In Relic 1, a Relic Traveller apparates in sites across a seemingly desolate United Kingdom. Uncovering fragments of audible data presenting clue-like testimonies to a forgotten Empire, the Relic Traveller soon finds themself in an atmosphere that simultaneously delivers poetic moments of the sublime met with increasingly harrowing claustrophobia and tales of trauma. Thus resulting in a familiar feeling of otherness, we are invited on a journey that embodies hysteria. Relic 1 is an artwork made possible with funding from PS/Y & Arts Council England.
Relic 2, Larry Achiampong, UK, 2019, 16’, DCP
The third film in what is currently a pentalogy, Relic 2 forms part of Relic Traveller: Phase 2, centred within themes related to Afrofuturism. This speculative project considers the social and political climate of current times; the rise of nationalism within the global West and tensions surrounding moments such as the United Kingdom’s leave ‘Brexit’ vote in 2016. Meanwhile, the African Union’s passport programme (also established in 2016) points toward the potential opening of borders across a unified African continent in the future. With these instances, the Relic Traveller series imagines a future in which the global West devolves to a point of decline, whilst the African Union ascends into prosperity, harmony, independence and responsibility in shaping the future of the planet.
Relic 3, Larry Achiampong, UK, 2019, 13’, DCP**
Detailing the struggles of a migrant worker as they try to make a life in a hostile, alien environment, Relic 3 encompasses aural tales of sexual manipulation, violence and exploitation whilst visually marrying impactful vistas from the Abandoned Lido (Margate, UK), Greenwich Foot Tunnel (London, UK) and Wanstead Flats (London, UK). At this unspecified point in time amongst an ambitious set of new initiatives, the African Union create the ‘Relic Travellers’ Alliance’, a programme that equips Relic Travellers with space-travelling technology for the sole purpose of venturing outside of the African Union to retrieve vocal information left by those whom had been historically oppressed as a result of political systems such as colonisation, capitalism and globalisation. These uncovered testimonies are collected and used as a basis for the African Union to responsibly govern the future informed by a bottom-up perspective. The film features a haunting, solemn score written by Achiampong with Cello played by Jonathan Holland.
Reliquary 2, Larry Achiampong, UK, 2020, 13’, DCP
The fifth film in the Relic Traveller series, Reliquary 2 acts as a response to COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown. The film is a work formed of animated sequences and unseen drone footage from Achiampong’s personal archives, complemented by an original score composed and performed by the artist. The film is a meditation on a period of separation between Larry Achiampong and his children, where the artist observes his own familial narrative within the pandemic and the trauma of forced isolation during unprecedented times. Speaking directly to his children, Reliquary 2 is an archive of contemplative prose and a historical record during what has been a surreal and challenging period for many. Digital technology has been relied upon for many as the sole means of interaction and communication, and has become embedded within our daily lives to become an intimate projection of ourselves as much as avatars to hide behind. Reliquary 2 features animation by Wumi Olaosebikan.
Larry Achiampong (b. 1984, London, UK) lives and works in London, UK. Achiampong’s solo and collaborative projects employ imagery, aural and visual archives, live performance and sound to explore ideas surrounding class, cross-cultural and post-digital identity. Drawing on his Ghanaian roots, his works examine his communal and personal heritage – in particular, the intersection between the postcolonial position and pop culture. Through his performances, he investigates ‘the self’ as a fiction, devising alter-egos to point at divided selves. Recent exhibitions and commissions include Liverpool Biennial, UK (2021); Art on the Underground, UK (2019); Somerset House, UK (2019/2018); Diaspora Pavilion: 57th Venice Biennale, Italy (2017); and Tate Britain/ Modern, UK (2013/2010).
Katherine Finerty was born in New York City and practices as an independent art curator, writer, and educator in London. She focuses on socially engaged practices, translocal identity politics, and global contemporary art. Finerty holds an MA in Curating from the Royal College of Art, studied History of Art at the University of Cambridge, and received her BA in Art History and Africana Studies from Cornell University. She was the Curatorial Assistant for the Göteborg International Biennale for Contemporary Art 2015 and Rencontres Picha: Biennale de Lubumbashi 2013, and has interned in the curatorial departments of The Met and Studio Museum in Harlem. Finerty is currently Curator-at-Large at The Showroom, London for the Contra La Raza [Against Race] project at Matadero Madrid, whilst also working as a Guest Curator for galleries in London, Ghana and beyond in addition to ongoing exhibition research and art education development.
Relic Traveller: Phase 1, 2 and 3 is created by Larry Achiampong and produced by Nephertiti Oboshie Schandorf