Transfigured Night

Opening: Haus de Kulturen der Welt (HKW) / After Year Zero September 2013 Two channel HD colour video installation, 5.1 sound 26 minutes 31 seconds

Director: John Akomfrah

Producers: Lina Gopaul and David Lawson

Transfigured Night draws its inspiration from two sources of the same name – Verklärte Nacht – the German poem by Richard Dehmel from 1896 and the musical composition by Arnold Schoenburg in 1899.

Using the five-part structure of both the poem and the composition to reflect on the key moments and events which have shaped postcolonial histories, Transfigured Night mirrors the relationship between postcolonial subject and state with that of Dehmel’s lovers – speaking to the fleeting promises and ensuing disappointments of the post-colonial state.

The poem can be read as an allegory of (colonial) independence. From the late fifties and throughout the sixties, usually at midnight, new African leaders mounted a podium on independence night to make a confession and a promise: they would usually confess they had inherited a not quite ‘pure’ new state machine and would then promise to deliver their new citizens redemption (love). Cheering and clapping, the citizens would then unconditionally pledge their loyalty and love to the ‘imperfect entity’, thereby transfiguring the night of colonial bondage into a dawn of postcolonial freedom.

The two-screen installation is about that moment of transfiguration, that moment of ecstatic affection. But it is also about the night after that night. And this is where Akomfrah’s interest in the music comes in – an interest in the multiple mutations of these new states into what he calls ‘narcoleptic’ entities: symbolically alive at moments of celebration and festivity and chronically asleep when called upon to deliver anything else (health care, education, security).

Featuring originally shot material from Ghana and across five cities from the United States – Atlanta, Washington San Francisco, New York and Chicago – Akomfrah takes the viewer on a truly pan-Atlantic journey.


Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Eli and Edythe Broad Museum