Larry Achiampong, Pan African Flag, 2017. (Image courtesy of Somerset House)
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to get the chance to speak with one of Somerset House Studio’s resident artists, Larry Achiampong, about his exciting new project, Pan African Flag, which will be flying proudly above Somerset House from 25 July to 31 January 2018. Achiampong’s Pan African Flag is part of a series of new commissions from Somerset House, and is in association with Achiampong’s The Relic Travellers’ Alliance performance on 5 October 2017. Achiampong’s work also coincides with the 1:54 Contemporary African Arts Fair at Somerset House this month. The flag represents the development of different mediums and artists that hold a shared interest in envisioning black futures, with an emphasis on afrodiasporic experiences and identity.
LT: In what ways does this flag sit within your wider body of work and practice?
LA: The flag launches a new multi-disciplinary project titled 'Relic Traveller', which manifests in performance, audio, moving image and prose. Taking place across various landscapes and locations, the piece builds upon a postcolonial perspective informed by technology, agency and the body, and narratives of migration. The flag symbolises the Pan African Union and the Relic Travellers' Alliance. This will follow with new works (currently in development) – I recently shot two films back-to-back and scored a new soundtrack for them. As for my wider body of work, I think the flag is continuing to expand on the ideas that I have been building over the years that relate the complexities of identity, migration and belonging.
LT: How are you finding being a Somerset House Studios artist and how has this residency affected your work?
LA: Being at Somerset House has been amazing - having the support of the Somerset House team, them standing behind my work, but also, sharing space with some amazing artists that I admire like Zinzi Minott and Imran Perretta has been great. I have rented studio spaces in the past, and you usually don't get to make the kinds of connections that I have so far at SH. And getting to create a flag to sit on top of their building hasn't been half bad!
LT: Colour appears to play a vital role in your work; why have you chosen this combination of vibrant colours for your flag?
LA: The 54 stars represent each one of the African nations and the overall design includes a symbolic colour palette. The green triangle is a reflection of the land and its natural resources. In stark contrast, the red horizon remembers the struggles and suffering that the continent (and especially it’s people) has endured. The yellow/gold represents a new day/prosperity and black circle represents a state of equilibrium. These shapes come together to resemble a figure in flight.
LT: The flag is going to be exhibited around Somerset House for the winter season, how do you hope for it to be interpreted in this historic setting?
LA: I'm really looking forward to seeing how the bold colours stand out when the light changes in the winter. Having the flag on for this long duration feels very special to me, as if the flag were becoming a beacon. To have the flag still be hoisted when Chris Ofili's 'Union Black' flag rises at Tate is a moment I look forward to as well - both of the flags share so much in common, whilst at the same time staring in different conceptual directions...
Achiampong's Pan African Flag flying at Somerset House. (Image courtesy of Somerset House)
LT: Do you believe that there is enough awareness and support for the contemporary African arts community here in London, and across the world?
LA: That feels like a dissertation case study question (laughs)! To see the likes of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Ibrahim Mahama taking the world by storm is amazing...at the same time I think there's always be more that can be done. It is difficult to say if things are improving. In the UK for example, there seems to be more arts funding going into culturally diverse projects and exhibitions lately, but there needs to be much more solo shows by young black artists in the UK for me to really feel that this is the case.
LT: Your work spans across a great variety of media, how has it been working on the flag’s design?
LA: It’s been a lot of fun. The design for the flag was turned around very quickly with the help of Wumi Olaosebikan. I've known Wumi for a long time and we talk regularly about video games, science fiction and Afrofuturism, so it was great to have him come on board to help adapt the original sketches I'd created. I really love working across media, settling for one type of medium just won't do — to me that would feel like stunting the potential for a project to grow.
LT: What do we have to look forward to in your performance Voyage of the Relic Traveller on 5 October in association with your design?
LA: I'm really excited to be blending some of the old and newer ideas I have been developing lately, I always see performance as a work in progress, so there will be an experimental angle to it — you'll just have to come along and see!
From 5 October, Somerset House will present Hassan Hajjaj: La Caravane., a homecoming exhibition of the British-Moroccan artist, showcasing his vibrant fusion of contemporary cultures through new and celebrated works in his first solo UK exhibition for seven years.
To coincide with Hassan Hajjaj’s exhibition and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Somerset House has commissioned one of its Studios residents, British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong, to create a flag to fly over its famous courtyard. Achiampong’s flag, the first in the new commissions series, uses a symbolic colour palette and design suggesting a figure in flight.