Apocalypse now: John Akomfrah’s The Unintended Beauty of Disaster

Lisson Gallery, London
With a relentless video onslaught, Akomfrah confronts colonialism, slavery, migrants and the obliteration of the natural world with astonishing results

The images slide across three screens in relentless succession. White birds flap over the wetlands and a boy in the burning sun. Elephants move through the scrub. One thing after another, and then another, and then something else. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and a fleeting glimpse of Malcolm X. Someone playing sax. A rhino quivering in death. Whenever you dwell on one thing, something else calls for attention. Big game hunters climb down from a dead elephant with no more thought than if they’d slid from a bonnet of a truck, all caught in some souvenir black and white footage from their safari.

We see old, framed black and white stills of slaves in chains, subjugated women and children and further horrors, the picture frames hung from trees or half-submerged in streams and in the tide of a rocky headland. Then there are appalling glimpses of beatings and murders (did I really see that?), and a marvellous clip of a hippo, mouth agape, in the surf at the edge of an ocean. There’s no stopping and there’s no going back. The stars wheel overhead and there’s thunder in the clouds.

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