New Art Exchange co-commission major new film to remember the forgotten millions of African Soldiers from World War I

22 January 2018

Today a major new commission by the filmmaker and artist John Akomfrah has been announced. The film will remember the millions of Africans who fought as soldiers or served as porters during the First World War. It has been commissioned in partnership with 14-18 NOW, the UK's arts programme for the First World War centenary, New Art Exchange, Nottingham, and Smoking Dogs Films.

Combining mixed archival sources with newly filmed material, artistic reflections and tableaux reconstructions, this ground-breaking work by one of the UK's most celebrated filmmakers reveals how the conflict shaped the recent history of Africa and the lives of its inhabitants.

In 1914, both Britain and Germany controlled vast territories on the continent. African men were enlisted to fight alongside Europeans on both sides, supported by an army of porters responsible for transporting food and equipment. Of the 100,000 deaths among British forces during the East Africa campaign, 90 per cent were porters and 45,000 came from Kenya alone.

Projected onto three screens, African Soldier tells a story of vast scope and enormous courage. In doing so it commemorates and celebrates the African men and women whose suffering has been neglected for too long.
The film will first be shown at the Imperial War Museum, London, in September 2018 before being presented at New Art Exchange in autumn 2019. It will feature amongst a major season dedicated to artists from the African continent and those whose heritage emanates from the region.

African Solider and the wider African season at New Art Exchange have been made possible through the organisations' recently awarded Ambitions for Excellence grant from Arts Council England. This highly sought-after fund will allow New Art Exchange to lead an innovative international programme to create and strengthen existing relationships between arts ecologies of the Midlands, UK and Africa. Involving UK and international partners, the project will unlock and seek to understand the impact of colonialism and its residue within Africa and among the British African diaspora communities the UK.

John Akomfrah said: "It is a huge privilege to be able to bring to light some of the histories that have been untold for so long and to remember the many millions of Africans that fought or served in the First World War. As an organisation that places diversity at its core, I am thrilled to be working with New Art Exchange to bring this internationally important work to Nottingham in 2019."

Skinder Hundal – CEO, New Art Exchange said: "This is a pioneering moment for how we connect and collaborate with artists and audiences in Nottingham, Africa and the UK. Taking African Solider by John Akomfrah as inspiration for our wider international project we hope to bring new perspectives on the value of diversity in the production of art and representation of minority cultures.

New Art Exchange first supported John Akomfrah's practice in 2012 when we co-commissioning The Unfinished Conversation which explored the influential cultural theorist, Stuart Hall. This powerful piece had considerable impact on the culturally diverse audiences that visit New Art Exchange, so we are delighted to be supporting the artist with what we anticipate to be yet another seminal work."

Peter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England, said: "We're delighted to be investing in New Art Exchange's ambitious plans to tell the untold stories of African soldiers and communities which promises to touch the lives of all those involved, locally, nationally and internationally. At the heart of our Creative Case for Diversity is the ambition to celebrate all of the artistic talents England is home to and New Art Exchange share that vision too."

Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW, said
"John Akomfrah's new work will be a powerful way to remind people of the huge contribution that soldiers from Africa made to the First World War, and will connect today's audiences to the history and sacrifices made by those who lived it 100 years ago. This commission is a highlight of our final 14-18 NOW season, in which we continue to engage audiences in the centenary through the lens of art."

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