Akomfrah’s new film, The Nine Muses, is a multilayered, gorgeously shot and affecting work that interweaves archival footage of black and Asian people travelling to and working in Britain with moody, elliptical shots of an anonymous black figure alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Split into nine chapters, each of which is dedicated to one of the Greek muses, and sprinkled with quotations ranging from the Odyssey to The Waste Land, it suggests that stories normally seen through the lens of postcolonialism could just as easily be seen in existential or mythic terms. In doing so, it invites viewers to reflect on the labels by which history – especially diasporic history – is framed and categorised.
"It’s important to read images in the archive for their ambiguity and open-endedness," Akomfrah argues. "Migrants were often filmed in relation to debates about crime or social problems, so that’s how they get fixed in official memory. But that Caribbean woman standing in a 60s factory isn’t thinking about how she’s a migrant or a burden on the British state; she’s as likely to be thinking about what she’s going to eat that evening or about her lover."