About John Akomfrah: The Unfinished Conversation (2012)

The Unfinished Conversation, 2012 is a moving portrait of the life and work of distinguished Jamaican-British cultural theorist and sociologist, Stuart Hall (1932–2014) who led the pioneering Cultural Studies department at the University of Birmingham from 1964 until 1979.

The film was a collaboration between Hall and filmmaker John Akomfrah, where Hall eloquently discusses his discovery of his personal and ethnic identity. Extracted images from news footage of the 1960s, alongside Hall’s personal home videos and photographs, are presented to merge the past, present and future. Narrated in a nonlinear format, the work unfolds over three large screens. A variety of different footage is shown at the same time examining the fractured nature of memory. Akomfrah weaves ideas about cultural identity through the work, using a poetic landscape of jazz and gospel music together with the voices of authors such as William Blake, Charles Dickens, Mervyn Peake and Virginia Woolf.

Akomfrah also addresses wider international political changes including the Soviet Union invasion of Hungary, the Vietnam War and the uprisings in Britain. His mix of mage and sound over multiple screens mimic the collision of history, culture and politics, out of which Hall’s identity was formed.

MAC has chosen to present the work as part of our contribution to the Birmingham 2022 Festival and to mark the occasion of MAC’s own 60-year anniversary. Shortly after the art centre was established in 1962, Hall came to work nearby at the University of Birmingham and lived with his family in Balsall Health.

Part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival.

The film has been loaned courtesy of Lisson Gallery and the artist. An Autograph ABP Commission, produced by Lina Gopaul and David Lawson, Smoking Dogs Films, in collaboration with Professor Stuart Hall. Executive producer Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP. Project funded by Grants for the Arts, Arts Council England and supported by the Bluecoat, New Art Exchange, Nottingham and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, Boston, Royal College Inspire Programme and Smoking Dogs Films Production. With kind support from NAXOS Books, The Open University, BBC, Time/Image and Getty Images.

Three channel video installation, 7.1 sound 45 minutes 48 seconds (AKOM120001). © Smoking Dogs Films;
Courtesy Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery.