Sublime Seas: John Akomfrah and J.M.W. Turner

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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


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Sublime Seas
John Akomfrah and J.M.W. Turner
March 3–September 16, 2018

This exhibition presents the U.S. premiere of Ghana-born British artist John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea. Debuting at the Venice Biennale in 2015, this captivating, three-channel video installation encompasses fictional narrative, natural history documentary, and film essay, referencing Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) and Heathcote Williams’s poem Whale Nation (1988), among others. Taking the viewer on an immersive aural and visual odyssey that explores the greed and cruelty of the whaling industry, the transatlantic slave trade, and the current refugee crisis, this intricately woven cinematic triptych positions the current crisis of refugees across the globe in a longer historic perspective of race, migration, and commerce.

Vertigo Sea will be paired with The Deluge, a dramatic depiction of the Biblical flood by the celebrated painter J.M.W. Turner (British, 1775–1851), which was selected by Akomfrah for this exhibition. Sublime Seas resonates with the San Francisco Bay Area’s maritime history and its position as a port for migrants — a point of both the start and end of epic journeys.

J.M.W. Turner, The Deluge. Exhibited 1805, Tate London. Courtesy Tate London.

Image on top: John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea (2015). Installation view. ©Smoking Dogs Films, courtesy Lisson Gallery

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