author: alexa lawlor | staff writer
The gallery’s video exhibit highlights race through science fiction.
When you walk into the MacKenzie Art Gallery, once you progress through another one of the current exhibitions, you can hear the faint sound of The Last Angel of History, a film by John Akomfrah. You pass through the curtain into a dark room with seating on one side, while the film is projected on the other. It seems almost eerie when alone, but as the movie restarts its continuous loop, you begin to settle into the world Akomfrah has established in the film.
I decided to go in without reading a lot of background or information beforehand, and therefore it took me a little while to get into what was happening. However, even if I didn’t do extensive research on the film before watching, I had read the written explanation of the film, which can be seen both on the wall before you enter the exhibit, as well as on the MacKenzie Art Gallery website. The description mentions that the film “introduces audiences to the ‘data thief,’ a mysterious figure who travels through space and time in search of a key to the future of black culture.” The description continues on to state that “this cinematic essay asks viewers to consider science fiction themes of alien abduction, estrangement, and genetic engineering as metaphors for the Pan-African experience of forced displacement, cultural alienation, and otherness.”
Even after reading the description, the film is not necessarily what you might expect. The Last Angel of History combines the genre of science-fiction and the style of a documentary incredibly well, although the cuts between the interviews and historical images can be quite startling at times. This is mainly due to the sound effects used within these cuts.
The data thief starts off the story while also acting as the narrator. The character is essentially an alien that comes to Earth to learn everything it can about black culture. I think this is an interesting and creative way to discuss history, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other film quite like this one. This film uses the interviews and historical images to inform, but it succeeds in doing so in a way that engages the viewer.
The film was made in 1996, but somehow feels both current and dated at the same time, certainly creating an interesting effect. The film includes images and video clips from different eras, along with interviews with prominent figures in black history, such as George Clinton, Nichelle Nichols, Samuel R. Delaney and many more. Within the film, there was a quote that I found particularly interesting, which discussed how science fiction is merely a “distortion of the present.” So, in my opinion, this could likely be why the film feels familiar in a way, while it combines aspects of the past, in historical images and videos, as well as aspects of the future, in the data thief.
If interested, you can watch a trailer for the film on YouTube, and then go check out the full film at the MacKenzie Art Gallery. The film is set to coincide with Black History Month in February, and the film will be at the Mackenzie Art Gallery until May 14. Admission to the MacKenzie Art Gallery is free, although donations are encouraged.