Skip to main content
Lux Online Home Themes Artists Work Education Education Tours Help Search
1900 - 19491950 - 19591960 - 19691970 - 19791980 - 19891990 - 19992000 - PRESENT

Sankofa and Black Audio Film Collective founded.

The groups shared a desire to develop a film practice which broke with dominant representations of black experiences and subjectivities: there was a feeling that Britain's black community had been "stitched up" by mainstream media representations, and that it was necessary to produce new ways of framing black experience. This made formal experiment an imperative in turn.

Black Audio Film Collective - John Akomfrah, Reece Auguiste, Edward George, Lina Gopaul, Avril Johnson, David Lawson, and Trevor Mathison - were active from 1983 to 1998. They began with tape-slide experiments such as Expeditions, Signs of Empire and Images of Nationality (all 1984) which questioned colonialist representations, before producing Handsworth Songs - a seminal documentary which framed the riots of 1985 in relation to the turmoil of Thatcher-era industrial restructuring and the frustrations of a "surplus class" who had arrived in late-1940's Britain on a wave of optimism.

Sankofa, set up in summer 1983 by Martina Attile, Maureen Blackwood, Isaac Julien and Nadine Marsh-Edwards, was named after a the Akan word for "mythical bird, which signifies the act of looking into the past to prepare for the future". Among their key productions were Who Killed Colin Roach (1983), Territories (1984-85) which was widely screened at festivals and exhibitions throughout the decade, and The Passion of Remembrance (1986), a drama which explored gay identity and experience in relation to race.

Black Audio Collective's Handsworth Songs engendered a critical debate between Stuart Hall, Salman Rushdie and Darcus Howe in the letters pages of the Guardian in January 1987. Rushdie: "It isn't easy to fight back against media stereotypes. As a result, when somebody says what we all know... there's a strong desire to cheer. That kind of celebration makes us lazy". In response, Hall suggested that "These new ways of telling bring 'Handsworth Songs' into line with (Sankofa's) 'Passion of the Remembrance'... in that distinctive wave of work by third-generation black artists, part of whose originality is precisely that they tell the black experience as an English experience".

Black Audio Collective and Sankofa embraced education activities and film programming as well as production: having gained wider audiences with the help of new funding initiatives that encouraged diversity, it was crucial to hold the door open for future black filmmakers and moving image collectives. For example, Sankofa organised 16mm workshops for black women (which resulted in one film being shown on Channel 4) and loaned 16mm and VHS editing facilities, and Black Audio Collective were involved in media consultancy.

Tom Roberts

< Previous |Back to 1980-1989 | Next >

Top: Territories (1983); Bottom: Passion of Remembrance (1986) by Isaac Julien/Sankofa.

Copyright LUX / the artists
Go to top of                             page
Home Themes Artists Work Education Education Tours Help Search