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Akeelah Bertram: Return

Bothy Gallery
10 Jul–1 Aug 2021

What would a world without borders look like? What does it mean for us to be together beyond our historical ties? How can we stand in place of what is lost?

“Between 2018 and 2019 I visited Ghana, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and the USA. During these trips I spoke with people from the African diaspora who were living and experiencing their shared heritage to varying degrees and with differing impacts. These experiences sparked questions about the ways people within the diaspora can connect to sites of their heritage if they are not physically able to visit them. I was inspired to develop Return – an installation that will create emotionally engaging exchanges between people in the diaspora focusing on locations in West Africa, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe.”

Return is a long-term project by artist Akeelah Bertram, which uses creative technology to create links across the African diaspora. She envisions a series of interactive installations that will allow users to connect across continents. This exhibition is part of Yorkshire Sculpture International’s summer programme and features current work in progress from the project exploring thoughts around what the body can become and what it means to honour an unknown being. It includes amorphous maps that challenge the idea of fixed borders, digital body traces that act as memorials to unknown ancestors, and experiments in transforming the body into light and vibrations.

Bertram’s research to date has explored ideas of ripples and currents across the Atlantic, ambiguous borders beyond land masses, and the imprint of a body becoming a tribute. In September 2021, this starting point will be expanded through collaborations with artists and makers who will use creative technology to extend memorial and remembrance practices and beliefs within the African diaspora. Future iterations of the interactive installation will be developed so that as users connect across the Atlantic their presence generates a tribute to the ancestors transported and transformed during the transatlantic slave trade.

Open weekends only, 10am–5pm.

Join Yorkshire Sculpture International online for an in conversation between Akeelah Bertram and writer and artist Season Butler on Thursday 15th July at 6pm. Register for your free place.

Return is produced by York Mediale. Supported by Yorkshire Sculpture International, Arts Council England, The British Council, Invisible Flock, University of Leeds and East Street Arts. Concept and fabrication: Akeelah Bertram. Technologist: Simon Fletcher. Sound Collaborator: Record LTP. Research resident: Carmen Okome.

Akeelah Bertram (b.1990 London) is a cross-disciplinary artist who lives and works in Leeds. She has exhibited nationally and internationally since studying at the University of Leeds, Hochschule für Bildende Künste, (Dresden) and the Royal College of Art (London).  

Bertram is interested in collective narratives, challenging perspectives and innovating modes of communication. She produces work across new media art, interaction design, sculpture and performance exploring heritage and identity through creative technology, and is currently the Gatenby Fellow in Contemporary Art, University of Leeds.