Ghosts of the Future: A Conversation with Larry Achiampong
The London-based, British Ghanaian artist and filmmaker Larry Achiampong explores race, class, and history in a multidisciplinary practice that, as described in the biography on his website, seeks to “examine his communal and personal heritage—in particular, the intersection between pop culture and the postcolonial position.” First devised in 2016, partially as a response to the sociopolitical shock of Brexit, Achiampong’s Relic Traveller is an ambitious project that has manifested as performance, sound installation, moving image, prose, and a remarkable public commission in which Achiampong reimagined London Underground’s iconic roundel in Pan-African colors—green, black, and red—that spoke symbolically to various African diasporic identities.
A central pillar of the project is a suite of four science fiction–inflected short films—Relic 0, Relic 1, Relic 2, and Relic 3—now streaming on the Criterion Channel. These hypnotic works, which run between ten and fourteen minutes, are set at an unspecified time in the future and chart the journeys of intrepid “Relic Travellers” across Britain and the world as they collect and process remnants and testimonies from the colonial past. Blending crisp images, poetic voice-over, and Achiampong’s own spare electronic music to create an atmospheric audiovisual experience, the Relic films simultaneously offer hopeful visions of a rising Africa and mournful laments for a harrowing past.
I recently caught up with Achiampong to discuss the origins of the project, its future, and his artistic inspirations.
Can you tell me about the origins of Relic Traveller?
In 2016, I was thinking about Brexit and the effects of these ideas that connected heavily with nationalism in a way that I found alarming. In conversations with friends, family, and peers, I was asking myself these questions more and more: What happens when a nation or a state embraces nationalism and cuts itself off from others around the planet, creating an individualized idea of survival? How does survival exist? How does that work? I was thinking about the larger framework of what Brexit meant at the time, and how it inspired other Western countries. Months after Brexit, Trump came to power. Those two things were connected, and I found them significant, as well as the rise of right-wing politics within Sweden, Germany, Poland, and France. At the same time, I’d been reading up on the African Union—a continental body consisting of the fifty-five member states that make up the African continent—and a passport program they’d been developing for years that would allow Africans to travel to other African states without the problem of a visa. You’re looking at one part of the world where borders are closing, and another part of the world where borders are opening.