John Akomfrah: Future History

MAR 5 – SEP 7 2020


Weaving a tapestry of moving images, John Akomfrah’s video essays address the questions of our time in an exhibition unlike any before at SAM. Future History brings together three examples of his art that convey a provocative vision of the past, present, and future. Akomfrah combines stunning scenery, archival footage, literary texts, and original interviews. His montages encourage new ways of looking at history and imagining the future.

SAM’s galleries are transformed into screening rooms and interactive spaces where Akomfrah’s work takes you from the 15th to the 21st century through three videos that must be seen on the big screen. The elaborate staging of Tropikos (36 min) conveys encounters between the British and people from Africa in the 16th century before the slave trade began. Vertigo Sea (48 min) presents three screens to lyrically explore the sea’s incomprehensible grandeur in our current moment on the verge of climate crisis. The Last Angel of History (45 min) follows a data thief’s voyage to find the keys to the future by listening to artists and explorers.

Ghana-born and London-based, Akomfrah uses the screen to introduce new explorations of the experiences of migrant diasporas across the globe, Afrofuturism, and visions of the natural world. Akomfrah’s videos have established him as a hugely respected artist and filmmaker with an evocative lens on humanity and the planet.


Presenting Sponsor

Lead Sponsor

Support for this exhibition was made possible by
Contributors to the SAM Fund

About the Artist

John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah (born 1957) has achieved recognition for his experimental approach to making nonlinear video essays. Working with longtime collaborators at Smoking Dogs Films, Akomfrah investigates ways to engage our personal and collective memories. He finds poignant segments from the audiovisual archives of the 20th century and mixes them together with high definition documentary footage and recreations to prompt new understandings about the history of the planet. As Akomfrah has said, “Art can pose problems in unique ways, allowing for other meaningful dialogues. It’s about proposing, not imposing.”

Akomfrah has had numerous solo exhibitions including New Museum, New York, NY, Bildmuseet, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden; Nasher Museum at Duke University, Durham, DC; SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain; Barbican, London, UK; and The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, Australia. He has also been featured in many international film festivals, including Sundance Film Festival, Utah, USA, and Toronto International Film Festival, Canada (2012), as well as numerous group shows across the country.

Advisory Committee

The Seattle Art Museum thanks these advisors who provided guidance during the exhibition planning: Saheed Adejumobi, Philip Attipoe, Erika Dalya Massaquoi, Jourdan Imani Keith, Simba Mafundikwa, Zola Mumford, Brandon Vaughan, Wei Ying Wong

Learn more about SAM’s commitment to equity.

Plan Your Visit

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Tickets include entry to Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations. On view in the third floor galleries, explore O’Keeffe’s unique approach to abstraction through 17 works from the 1910s to the 1930s. At the heart of the installation is Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1, a recent addition to SAM’s collection and a gift of late Trustee Barney A. Ebsworth.

We recommend giving yourself two or more hours to experience all three of John Akomfrah’s video essays and still have time to spend with Georgia O’Keeffe’s artworks. Before you come, be sure to confirm hours and check out our calendar for daily programming.

Please note that Vertigo Sea has short scenes of violence (humans in distress at sea, humans held captive, and the hunting of whales, bears, and deer).

There is an alternative video for families in the west lounge, showing “A Herring Opera,” a 36- minute story from Sitka, Alaska in 5 acts with operatic score.

See it First. See it Free.

The best way to view John Akomfrah and Georgia O’Keeffe is as a SAM member! Enjoy unlimited FREE admission, early access, and special discounts. Membership pays for itself in three visits or less. Learn more »

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