Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour

London-based artist Isaac Julien CBE RA is a multimedia filmmaker and photographer known for bringing history to life with a nuanced and thought-provoking visual language that critically addresses the politics of race and gender. His film installation Lessons of the Hour features actor Ray Fearon in the role of Frederick Douglass, the nineteenth-century abolitionist, writer, and freed slave. Open-ended narrative vignettes set in Washington, DC, London, and Edinburgh portray Douglass with various influential women of his time—including Susan B. Anthony and Ottilie Assing—dramatizing ideas of racial and gender equality. Julien’s work reiterates Douglass’s belief in the importance and power of photography and picture-making in advocating for social justice. Julien conjures Douglass’s role in the abolitionist movement, powerfully emphasizing its relevance to contemporary social justice struggles. Lessons of the Hour features ten screens of varying dimensions hung salon-style—referencing a popular nineteenth-century method of arranging a group of images. The vibrant colors of the film have a modern aesthetic that, in conjunction with the period set, costumes, and salon-style screens, unites past and present.
Isaac Julien CBE RA, born in London in 1960, makes work that focuses on themes of remembrance and social justice in contemporary and historical cultural narratives. His previous films include the 1989 documentary-drama Looking For Langston and his 1991 feature-film debut, Young Soul Rebels, which won the Cannes Film Festival’s Semaine de la Critique prize. His films and photography have been shown worldwide in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums, including Victoria Miro Gallery, London; Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town; and the 57th Venice Biennale at the inaugural Diaspora Pavilion, Venice. Julien has received numerous awards for his work, including the Charles Wollaston Award for his work in the 2017 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, an annual show at the Royal Academy of Arts, where he was named a Royal Academician. In addition to creating film, photography, and installation art, Julien has taught at the University of the Arts London and Staatliche Hoscschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe. He is currently a professor of digital arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Anchor name: Video
Meet the Artist | Isaac Julien
Isaac Julien discusses Lessons of the Hour at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, in 2023. Video courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Exhibition Name
Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour
Exhibition Type
Solo Exhibitions
Malloy Wing
Feb 3 - May 19
Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour is organized for the Tang by Dayton Director Ian Berry.
Isaac Julien
Student Staff
Brynnae newman
Brynnae Newman '22
Curatorial Intern, Student Advisory Council
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