U.S. premiere of major video installation by celebrated artist and filmmaker sheds light on climate change

(Boston, MA—November 9, 2018) The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) will open the next season of the Watershed, its new project space in East Boston, with the U.S. premiere of Purple, an immersive six-channel video installation by acclaimed artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah, announced Jill Medvedow, the ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss Director.

“What astounds me about the art of John Akomfrah is that the beauty, power, and grace of his work conveys a sense of the sublime and the possible, despite its depiction of the powerful impacts of climate change, rising sea levels, and the increase of severe weather. Purple embodies the belief that inward reflection must be paired with active engagement.” said Medvedow. “The ICA is honored to present this important and timely work at the Watershed.”

The artist’s most ambitious project to date, Purple combines archival footage with newly shot film to address themes related to the implications of climate change across the planet and its effects on human communities, biodiversity, and the wilderness. Sited in the Watershed’s industrial building, the themes of Purple resonate deeply with the Watershed’s harbor location and its proximity to the current and historical maritime industries of the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina. On view May 26 through September 2, 2019, John Akomfrah: Purple is organized by Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator, with Cara Kuball, Curatorial Project Manager.

Purple is a catalyst for conversation and action. Through the poetic interweaving of archival images and new footage accompanied by a hypnotic soundscape, the film confronts the issue of climate change from a philosophical perspective, questioning what is morally and ethically at stake if human beings continue to exploit the planet,” said Respini. “The Watershed’s coastal and industrial location provides a powerful backdrop for visitors to explore these subjects.”

Akomfrah draws from hundreds of hours of archival footage, combining it with newly shot film and a spellbinding sound score to produce the video installation. Symphonic in scale and divided into five interwoven movements, the film features various disappearing ecological landscapes: from the hinterlands of Alaska and the desolate environments of Greenland, to the Tahitian Peninsula and the volcanic Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Purple conveys the complex and fragile interrelation of human and non-human life with a sense of poetic gravity that registers the vulnerability of living in precarious environments.

Purple has been commissioned by the Barbican, London and co-commissioned by Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden, TBA21-Academy, The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon and Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow.

About the Artist

Born in 1957, Accra, Ghana, John Akomfrah lives and works in London. A founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective (1982–1998) and its offshoot, the film and television production company Smoking Dogs Films (1998–present), his work has been shown in museums and exhibitions around the world including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The New Museum, New York; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Serpentine Gallery, London; Tate Britain, London; Southbank Centre, London; Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden; and the 56th Venice Biennale.

About the Watershed

On July 4, 2018 the ICA opened to the public its new ICA Watershed expanding artistic and educational programming on both sides of Boston Harbor—the Seaport and East Boston. The Watershed builds upon the extraordinary momentum achieved by the museum since opening its visionary waterfront building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in 2006. The ICA has been a catalyst in expanding audiences for contemporary art through groundbreaking exhibitions and performances, and innovative programs—increasing its attendance tenfold and welcoming over 2.5 million visitors to the museum since 2006. A museum at the intersection of contemporary art and civic life, the ICA has advanced a bold vision for amplifying the artist’s voice and augmenting art’s role as educator, incubator, and convener for social engagement. Admission to the Watershed—central to the museum’s vision for art and civic life—is free for all.

About the ICA

An influential forum for multi-disciplinary arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston has been at the leading edge of art in Boston for 80 years. Like its iconic building on Boston’s waterfront, the ICA offers new ways of engaging with the world around us. Its exhibitions and programs provide access to contemporary art, artists, and the creative process, inviting audiences of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the excitement of new art and ideas. The ICA, located at 25 Harbor Shore Drive, is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 AM–5 PM; Thursday and Friday, 10 AM–9 PM (1st Friday of every month, 10 AM–5 PM); and Saturday and Sunday, 10 AM–5 PM.  Admission is $15 adults, $13 seniors and $10 students, and free for members and children 17 and under. Free admission for families at ICA Play Dates (2 adults + children 12 and under) on last Saturday of the month. For more information, call 617-478-3100 or visit our website at www.icaboston.org. Follow the ICA at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Free Admission to the ICA Watershed is made possible by the generosity of Alan and Vivien Hassenfeld and the Hassenfeld Family Foundation.

The ICA Watershed is supported by Fund for the Arts, a public art program of the New England Foundation for the Arts.

logo