Larry Achiampong: Wayfinder 15 October – 15 January 2023 MK Gallery, Milton Keynes

In October 2022 MK Gallery will present a major solo exhibition by British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong. Working in film, sculpture, installation, sound, collage, music and performance, Achiampong draws on popular culture and his communal and personal heritage to explore postcolonial and post-digital identity, and the deeply entrenched inequalities in contemporary society.

The exhibition will include Achiampong’s debut feature length film Wayfinder (2022), his Pan African flags, the largest representation of his Relic Traveller project (2017 – ongoing), and Glyth collages (2013 – ongoing). It will also reveal some of his influences from video games to the landscape paintings of JMW Turner.

Wayfinder (2022) is Larry Achiampong’s first feature and most ambitious film to date. The film combines sweeping shots with poetic voice-over narratives, melded with real ‘vox pop’ testimonies, field recordings and an original orchestral score composed by Achiampong. Its cast includes musician and artist Mataio Austin Dean (who plays The Griot); and a trippy dialogue-driven scene (set within East London café, E. Pellicci in Bethnal Green) portrayed by Maa Afua and Russell Tovey, among others.

The film follows a young girl on a journey across England. Travelling from north to south, she passes through different regions, towns and landscapes, including the Hemmingwell housing estate in Wellingborough, around 20 miles away from the gallery, and the ruins of St Johns Church in Boughton, Northamptonshire. On her way she encounters people and stories, such as the Wellingborough based former athlete Anita Neil OLY, who was the first female Black British Olympian. Wayfinder draws on British traditions of travel and exploration to reflect on division and the meaning of home.

Anita Neil OLY was born in 1950, and still lives in Wellingborough. She competed in two Olympics and set new world records in track and field, and yet she was compelled to retire at 23 due to lack of funding and facilities – her dedication to her sport and country uncelebrated. Even as recently as 2012 she was overlooked. When the Olympic torch passed through her area, she was not asked to carry it. The only conversation the Wanderer has in the film is with Neil at her home.

Many of the video games that influence Achiampong’s work will be showcased, including Ico, Journey, Inside, Legend of Zelda and Ori and the Blind Forest. There will be playable consoles in the Gallery’s Café, and during the exhibition everyone will be welcome to pop in to play some of the best video games from the past three decades and maybe rediscover former favourites.

Larry Achiampong said: ‘This project feels like a poignant moment for me, not just professionally and as a maker of films, but also personally. It has felt very important and necessary, especially at this point in time to be able to bring this range of subject matter and conversations to the table at what is increasingly becoming a contentious moment of our times.

‘I am so excited to share the expansive vision of this story which marks a new and exciting stage in my art practice. I never set out to create a film of this size, but due to the scope of ideas that evolved along the way, it increasingly became inevitable that this would become my first feature film.’

Relic Traveller is Achiampong’s multi-disciplinary work which envisages a pan-African alliance of travellers who explore landscapes of the near future, collecting testimonies of those who have been historically oppressed by colonialism, capitalism and globalisation.

The installation will incorporate the Relic films, Relic flags and a new series of life-size Relic Traveller figures (The Relic Travellers’ Alliance: Assembly 1 & 2, 2021).

Other works in film, sound and collage will also be included, such as Achiampong’s Glyth collages (2013 – ongoing). The faces of each black person in family photos have been replaced with cubist like circles and red lips in these works, referencing experiences of racism growing up in East London, the Robertson’s Golliwog mascot still in circulation until 2002, and the Guy Fawkes mask from Alan Moore’s comic V For Vendetta.

Wayfinder: Larry Achiampong has been organised by Turner Contemporary with MK Gallery and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

Wayfinder has been commissioned by Turner Contemporary with MK Gallery and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.