. Conversations at the Edge (CATE)

Handsworth Songs

Posted by | Jessica Bardsley | Posted on | April 2, 2012

April 5, 6:00 p.m.

John Akomfrah/Black Audio Film Collective, Handsworth Songs (1986). Courtesy the artists and LUX, London.

Founded against the backdrop of rising neo-fascism, police brutality, and extreme racial unrest of 1980s Britain, the Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC) produced some of the period’s most poetic and provocative works before disbanding in the 1990s. BAFC’s acclaimed essay film, Handsworth Songs, examines the 1985 race riots in Handsworth and London. Interweaving archival photographs, newsreel clips, and home movie footage, the film is both an exploration of documentary aesthetics and a broad meditation social and cultural oppression through Britain’s intertwined narratives of racism and economic decline. 1986, John Akomfrah/Black Audio Film Collective, UK, 16mm, 60 minutes + discussion.

THE BLACK AUDIO FILM COLLECTIVE (1982–98, UK) included John Akomfrah, Reece Auguiste, Edward George, Lina Gopaul, Avril Johnson, David Lawson, and Trevor Mathison. The group produced films, videos, slide-tape pieces, installations, posters, exhibitions, and performances, including Handsworth Songs (1986), which garnered seven international awards, Testiamint, which premiered at the Semaine de la Critique at Cannes International Film Festival in 1988. These and subsequent works such as Twilight City (1989) and The Last Angel of History (1995) staked a claim for a new kind of moving image work that was resolutely experimental and confidently internationalist. Throughout their career, the BAFC worked within and between the media of art, film, and television, participating in British survey exhibitions such as From Two Worlds (Whitechapel Gallery, 1986), The British Art Show (Hayward Gallery, 1990) as well as international exhibitions such as Documenta X (1997) and Documenta XI (2002). BAFC is the subject of the recent retrospective and catalog, titled Ghost of Songs: The Art of the Black Audio Film Collective (2007, Liverpool University Press).