To mark the final weeks of MoMA’s presentation of Isaac Julien’s ongoing Ten Thousand Waves (an installation we alerted you a number of times last year), the Department of Film presents a survey of Julien’s film works, including shorts and features from the 1980s to the present.
Emerging in the neigboring club cultures of funk, disco, and soul; leftist political activism; and collectivism in British independent filmmaking, Julien made his first films as a student at Central Saint Martins. Through his films, Julien charted new representations of a self—black, gay, and British—that was largely excluded from the cultural climate of the 1980s, heralding what came to be known as New Queer Cinema. From Langston Hughes to Frantz Fanon to the 1977 Silver Jubilee, Julien combines documentary archival material with poetic fictionalizations that alternately stand in for a silenced ancestral past and act as the starting point for a viable future. While in the last 15 years Julien has primarily created video installations, these more recent works only continue the inquiry and invention of his films, as he continuously challenges received structures of artistic form and cultural meaning.
If you’re not at all familiar with the work of the black British artist (including filmmaker), here’s your chance to get familiar (if you live in New York anyway).
We’ve highlighted some of his films here on S&A – notably his allegorical snapshot of late 1970s London, 1991’s Young Soul Rebels, which co-starred a young Sophie Okonedo, and was awarded the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival the same year. And there was the poetic 1989 documentary Looking For Langston – an exploration of the life and times of late African American poet Langston Hughes, delving into the world in which he thrived, fusing together archival footage, a jazz soundtrack and scripted scenes, to examine homosexuality and black gay identity during the Harlem Renaissance.
Typically, Julien’s films relate experiences of black and gay identity, combining both visual and performing arts elements to create strong narratives.
He founded the Sankofa Film and Video Collective, and was a founding member of Normal Films in 1991. He was a visiting professor at the Whitney Museum of American Arts, and most recently, he’s had solo shows at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, MoCA Miami and the Kerstner Gesellschaft, Hanover.
The ongoing Ten Thousand Waves installation has been running since November, and closes on February 17. If you haven’t checked it out yet, maybe today’s news that a retrospective of Julien’s films will be added to the presentation, will further entice you.
The film retrospective alone will run from February 7–11.