John Akomfrah already had a significant reputation as an artist filmmaker when he was selected for the BBC/Arts Council Made in England bursary.
One of a number of commissions under Made in England, John was required to link his project to a specific theme and an English region. No other restrictions were imposed. The result was Mnemosyne, a 40-minute gallery piece that could be described as a tone poem on the theme of migration to the West Midlands. But it went significantly beyond that. By drawing on other archives and collections, and by structuring the film around the Odyssey and other Greek myths, John and his producers created a multi-layered piece that forces us to see the meaning of archive material in new ways.
Mnemosyne grew into the 90-minute feature film The Nine Muses, shown at major film festivals and winning a UK distributor in 2012. This was an opportunity for John Akomfrah to realise a long held vision: “In some ways I’ve been making it for the last 20 years – it’s about trying to build a memorial, a monument or altar piece.”
“Your relationship with the archivist is an equal one.”