Two years before his death in 2014, Stuart Hall, the cultural theorist, political activist and founding editor of radical journal the New Left Review, collaborated with the artist and film-maker John Akomfrah on The Unfinished Conversation. The extraordinary filmic art installation, projected on a triptych of screens, attempted to evoke and translate Hall’s life and ideas until 1968’s cultural revolution. Akomfrah adopts an approach that has become his signature, weaving together voiceover with music, newly shot footage and TV and film archive material. On its 10th anniversary it is being remounted at the Midlands Arts Centre as part of Birmingham 2022 festival.
Even on a Zoom call, Akomfrah is luminous; he’s an intellectual without pretension and his blue, French workman’s jacket looks lived in. Behind him are cabinets with each drawer identified by a single photo. More artwork and paraphernalia are propped up on the walls. Laughter prefaces all the answers to my questions, especially the mischievous ones. I start by asking what drew him to Hall.