The Unfinished Conversation, 2012, 3-channel HD video installation, colour, sound, 46 min. 

The Unfinished Conversation, 2012, 3-channel HD video installation, colour, sound, 46 min. 


John Akomfrah is the director of numerous award-winning films dedicated to the experience of colonialism, diaspora, and resistance. He is one of the founders of the Black Audio Film Collective, which was active between 1982 and 1998, and whose groundbreaking activities placed racism and black identity on the public agenda in Britain. 

His new work, The Unfinished Conversation, is devoted to Stuart Hall, a theorist of cultural identity and difference who exerted great influence on Akomfrah and the collective movement in which he was involved. Hall arrived in the UK from Jamaica (then still a British colony) in the 1950s, graduated from Oxford, and went on to become a decisive voice on the New Left alongside other intellectuals such as E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams. 

The Unfinished Conversation is a three-screen “narrative construction” of the multiple realities of one of the world’s most eminent thinkers—a thinker who is a product of both Europe and the Caribbean, and whose interests and concerns include Marxism, nuclear disarmament, culture, race, television, cultural politics, and diasporic identities. The Unfinished Conversation focuses on Hall’s “formative years” in the 1950s and 1960s. It alludes to, for instance, the crucial role of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 that caused a Europe-wide exodus from communist parties, and to the Suez Crisis, the British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt after Egypt’s President Nasser recognized the People’s Republic of China and nationalized the Suez canal, one of the world’s most important economic arteries. This imperialist invasion sparked mass protests in Britain, and both events ultimately demanded a rethinking of previous leftist orthodoxies. 

Akomfrah describes the work as an exercise in “spectropoetics”: a re-visitation of the ghosts that haunt a life, and an interrogation of the fundamental transformations in the imaginary that those hauntings ultimately produce. Hence, the work moves between Hall’s voice, ideas, memories, inventions, and insights, and immerses his biography in historical events. For Hall, identity is never a finished product or a given reality. Rather, 
it is an ever-changing relation that emerges in-between subjects and history—as, in his words, an “unfinished conversation.” 

John Akomfrah, born 1957 in Ghana, lives and works in London

  • An Autograph ABP Commission. Executive producer Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP. Produced by Lina Gopaul and David Lawson,
    Smoking Dogs Films Production, in collaboration with Professor Stuart Hall.
  • Project funded by Grants For Arts, Arts Council England and supported by the Bluecoat, New Art Exchange, Nottingham and the W.E.B.
    Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, Boston, Royal College Inspire Programme and Smoking Dogs
    Films Production.
  • With kind support from NAXOS Books, The Open University and BBC, Time/Image and Getty Images.