WHEN THE Sky Falls is Larry Achiampong’s most ambitious and personal solo show to date, with new moving image, sound and sculptural works that bring together childhood ruminations, Akan deities and speculative future histories.
Unnamed narrators from Achiampong’s most recent film, The Expulsion, guide visitors through a subterranea of ‘invisible’ workers, invoking an east London bruised from the effects of the national recession of the early 1990s. For this exhibition, John Hansard Gallery’s main space has been transformed into a purgatorial space based on non-descript and deeply familiar office spaces, iconic to the West African diaspora as representing the bittersweet sting of surviving forced migration.
In the installation Attack of the Henrys, sphinx-like anthropomorphised vacuum cleaners create a formation of nightmarish guards with rictus smiles and rhinotomies, seemingly in thrall of the gentle undulations of Achiampiong’s new sound work Breath of Asase Yaa (the Ashanti divine mother). The exhibition is also punctuated with woven heavy-duty bags, colloquially referred to as “Ghana Must Go”, for the artwork Medase Me Adamfo, which translates from Twi as “Thank you, my friend”.
These new works are complemented on John Hansard Gallery’s Digital Array with a special installation of Sunday’s Best, a short film which considers how belief systems within the African diaspora are inflected by colonial histories. In this new approach to the work, the usual gallery seating has been replaced with church pews – in connection to some of the types of churches the artist attended as a child.
The exhibition also features seven-metre high versions of Achiampong’s Pan African flag for The Relic Travellers’ Alliance (motion), on the gallery’s exterior windows overlooking Guildhall Square.
With their symbolic Pan African colour palette featuring 54 stars relating to each African country, these flags form part of Achiampong’s expansive multi-disciplinary Relic Traveller project. Relic Traveller is a speculative work manifesting in performance, audio, moving image and prose that is informed by technology, agency and the body, and narratives of migration.
The exhibition, When the Sky Falls, is an intimate deliberation on what it is to attain apotheosis, or, at the very least, shake off the isolating signifiers of difference and poverty. Common acts of cleaning and maintenance are equal to the power of rituals and prayer.
The exhibition title speaks ofcreation myths, folklore and the singsong refrains embedded in children’s stories. Each of which are ways in which we for generations have tried to make sense of the world and what has in recent moments felt like “the end of days”.
When the Sky Falls builds on Achiampong’s concept of Sanko-time, a theory at the core of his recent practice. Sanko-time is based on the Ashanti word “Sanfoka” – roughly translated as “to go back for what has been left behind”. Sankofa also alludes to using the past to prepare for the future, essentially the wish of being able to go back to an immutable point to make sure that what has been lost is lost no longer.
Although this is a new term, it reflects resilience from the oldest traumas of the African diasporas.
If it is the end of days, it is through hysteria, faith and connecting communally that we will unify for When the Sky Falls.