The 2012 ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture laureates were film-maker and cultural activist John Akomfrah and museum director and curator Charles Esche. They received their awards at a ceremony in Brussels on 19 March 2012.

Watch the video . Photo ©Jan Boeve.

Watch the video. Photo ©Jan Boeve.

Moving image culture and working in that culture is for me one of the ways in which I try and connect what everybody else is trying to connect: who you are and where you are going.
— John Akomfrah

Filmmaker and cultural activist John Akomfrah was chosen for his ground-breaking film oeuvre woven from perspectives that are often hidden from the mainstream narratives of European history. Born in Accra, Ghana and living and working in London, Akomfrah makes films that are at once poetic and essayistic - creative dialogues that pose intriguing questions about culture, migration, integration and intercultural exchange. He explores both urban and rural landscapes, using diverse perspectives to challenge accepted narratives of history and giving prominence to its unheralded change-makers.

The jury praised the development of Akomfrah’s oeuvre from his earliest film, the ground-breaking 'Handsworth Songs' (1986) to 'Nine Muses' (2010), an artistic meditation on migration, myth and memory that creatively weaves together layers of original footage, archival clips, sound and poetry.

Akomfrah’s long-standing body of work is a profound and multi-layered creation, championing voices that are often hidden from the mainstream discourse of European pasts. 

In 1982 Akomfrah was a founding member of the seminal British film-making collective, Black Audio Film Collective and produced a broad range of work - fictional films, tape slide installations, gallery installations, experimental videos and creative documentaries. Since 1998, Akomfrah has been Director of the film and television production companies, Smoking Dogs Films (London) and Creation Rebel Films (Accra). His most recent film is 'The Stuart Hall Project' (2013).

Watch the video . Photo ©

Watch the video. Photo ©

Art offers a way of thinking about the world that is different than any other system of thinking. It allows possibility to enter into our framework of thinking.
— Charles Esche

The jury chose curator and writer Charles Esche, Director of the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, for the span of his curatorial oeuvre and his exceptional leadership in rethinking and opening up centres and museums of art as public spaces that show us the power and value of art in engaging with the contemporary world.

His impressive record of challenging programming (exhibitions, debates, symposia), has developed a conversation between art and society, a conversation that imagines how individual citizens can live and enact a future society together.

Since the 1990's, Esche has - together with a roster of artists and with the teams of Tramway (Glasgow), Rooseum (Malmö) and the Van Abbemuseum - explored the many potential functions of contemporary art centres and museums as important agents in and of the public sphere. He is co-founder and co-editor of Afterall Journal/Afterall Books - a contemporary art publisher based at Central St. Martins College 

At a time of increased entertainment of culture and decreased access to public spaces, the jury regarded Esche's work as a curator and leader of institutions is of utmost value. His ability to create meaningful and urgent debates within and beyond contemporary art is followed by many practitioners around the world and acts as a powerful inspiration.

Selection Process

The 2012 ECF Princess Margriet Award laureates were selected from a list of 90 nominations, including internationally renowned cultural thinkers and practitioners, nominated by a network of pre-eminent cultural actors from all over Europe. The jury reviewed dozens of submissions and made their final selection in autumn 2011.

2012 Award Jury


The annual public award ceremony was hosted by ECF’s Director Katherine Watson and was attended by HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, HRH Princess Astrid of Belgium and ECF’s President HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands. 

The award ceremony included the premiere screening of Peripeteia, a short film by John Akomfrah and Smoking Dogs Films especially commissioned by ECF and Carroll/Fletcher Gallery for the event. It also featured a speech celebrating Esche's work, given by the Italian activist Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, called Art in the Age of Barbarisation.

Before the Award ceremony on the 19 March, ECF and Flemish-Dutch House deBuren hosted a public debate 'Politics, economics and culture, a different balance?' between laureate Charles Esche, Franco 'Bifo' Berardi (writer and activist), Judith Marquand (Oxford University) with moderator Frénk van der Linden (writer and journalist). The debate addressed the urgent responsibilities of culture, economics and politics in constructing a new horizon of democracy. Esche, Berardi and Marquand affirmed the need for investment in culture and the arts if we are to safeguard democracy in Europe.