The titular work, Wayfinder (2020), commissioned by Turner Contemporary with MK Gallery and Baltic Contemporary, is the centre of the intricately webbed show, though it is the final film viewers see. It represents the artist’s need to address conversations about class and race, belonging and displacement, cultural heritage and gentrification. For Achiampong, the urgency of these themes comes from an inability to address these concerns in his youth. With Wayfinder, he overlaps fiction and reality as he unfolds regional stories from the future across England. The film is divided into six chapters, following the journeys of a young girl, played by actor Perside Rodrigues. She is witness to conversations, histories and stories of different community members. In these travels, Achiampong weaves in his own views on the gentrification of East London where he grew up and criticisms of art institutions and artists in their depiction of Black bodies. These are presented alongside fictitious conversations between members of different races and historical events, like Anita Bell’s interview revealing her experience as the first Black female Olympian.
The Wanderer also reflects on the British tradition of travelling and penetrating ‘virgin’ lands, and uses it to look inwards, on the divisive politics in the country today. The film indirectly deals with the effects of propagating an ‘independent nation’ post Brexit and the rise of a national conservatism in which the rhetoric of “us” vs “them” gains popularity. Alluding to such division present within the country, the seating arrangement in the room is designed to represent a fragmented map of the UK. It is these simultaneous representations of past, present and future in Wayfinder which are echoed in other films and the exhibition at large. For Achiampong, time is not linear, it is “Sanko-time” or cyclical. He bases this on the Twi word Sankofa which means to go back and retrieve.
The exhibition’s design allows the viewer to move through space and time with the artworks and become “The Wanderers.” With each film in the show, the viewers, like the protagonist of Wayfinder, are witness to accounts, conversations, places and histories. However, the choice of placing the central piece, which is also the longest film, at the end of the show is counter-intuitive. Each film depends on narration for its storytelling and is ten to twelve minutes long which results in a tired audience for Achiampong’s final labour of love, Wayfinder. Their run-time and wall length size of projection overshadow the bodysuits and collage works by the artist present in the third floor. The narrative format of the films leaves little room for the viewers to form their own answers or find their own way, which disappoints only because the artist himself wishes for the audience to leave with their own inferences.
Irrespective of whether the audience is able to absorb the show in its entirety, the show needs to be credited for creating a welcoming and comfortable space for all, especially children. The video games and comfortable seating are a great incentive for families to spend their afternoons here, despite the complex subject matter of the show. For those who persevere to the end, the Wayfinder is a delightful film, sporting beautiful landscapes, folk vocals of Mataio Austin Dean and orchestral scores that leave you with goosebumps.