Winners and Prizes of Artes Mundi 7
Akomfrah’s winning piece, Auto Da Fé, is one of his several recent works which engage with humankind’s long tradition of migration and refugees that goes back centuries. He said they were made in part as a response to the “shameful” hostility that has greeted the millions of people driven out of Africa and the Middle East seeking safety on European shores.
At a time when nationalism is on the rise across Europe and Donald Trump’s first move as US president has been to halt all refugee asylum in America, Akomfrah said the work felt “even more urgent” than when he completed it a year ago.
Akomfrah first conceived Auto Da Fé in 2009, when he said he first got a “sense” of the anti-immigrant feeling that was beginning to creep into everyday conversation and politics. The work weaves together different moments over 400 years of history when communities or ethnic groups were persecuted and driven from their land, from Sephardic Jews fleeing Brazil in 1654 to the recent Isis-driven genocide of the Yazidis in Iraq and Christians in Mosul.
“We are currently experiencing the worst discussion of migration I have lived through, in the 40 years I have observed these debates,” he said. “It feels bleak, it feels intolerant and it feels frightening.
“Most of the ideas in Auto Da Fé were really about saying to people: ‘You really have to consider the option that people are migrating literally to survive. They come here to be able to live, because there isn’t an alternative anywhere else.’ And that seems to be an insight that has been lost.”
Bedwyr Williams was also awarded the Derek Williams Trust Purchase Award.
In association with Artes Mundi, the Derek Williams Trust Purchase Award of £30,000, to acquire a work by one of the shortlisted artists for Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales contemporary art collection, was awarded to Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams for Tyrrau Mawr (2016), at the Artes Mundi 7 prize awarding dinner.
Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern, who formed part of the judging panel for the purchase award, announced the decision saying that the prize goes to “a trully international artist, who just happens to be Welsh.”