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The Film Art of Isaac Julien

2001-09-16 to 2001-11-11

The Film Art of Isaac Julien is the most substantial to date devoted exhibition to the work of Isaac Julien. It is Julien's first solo museum show.

The presentation consists of five film installations; Three (1996-1999), The Attendant (1993), Trussed (1996), Three (The Conservator's Dream) (1996-99) and The Long Road to Mazatlán, and also four photographic series.

Isaac Julien is Britain's preeminent black filmmaker, an internationally recognized artist, writer, teacher, and scholar. His films include Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (1995); the Cannes Film Festival prizewinner, Young Soul Rebels (1991); and the critically acclaimed documentary on Langston Hughes, Looking for Langston (1989).

Julien's preoccupation is with the representation of race and masculinity in film. While his work is certainly considered "avant garde," Julien employs conventional filmic strategies such as narrative and beauty to explore and subvert stereotypical portrayals of gay and black subjects. More poetic than didactic, his films are characterized by their dream-like imagery and sensuality.

In the film installation The Attendant, a black uniformed, male guard (the attendant) and a black female conservator are the protagonists. The attendant and the conservator are locked in silence, and no interaction takes place between them and a white visitor. This silence is shattered by the amorous sounds of the attendant and the visitor making love in the museum. Julien thus presents desire and pleasure as possible avenues for resistance to racial and class distinctions. Although she remains silent, the conservator is an ally, enabling the encounter between the lovers.

Trussed (a pun on trust) is a double projection of identical images side by side. A series of "tableau vivant" includes images of tenderness between a black and white male couple and the black lover in a wheelchair. With sweeping, circular camera movements and the doubling of the image, Trussed is a vision of eroticism and illness, and the complexities that AIDS has wrought to gay love and desire.

The recently completed Three (The Conservator's Dream), is projected as three looped sequences side by side. An exploration of desire through dance, Three juxtaposes symbolic images with their religious, cultural, and social references. Through its collaborative nature and with its interdisciplinary references (to photography, film, dance, painting), it breaks down the barriers between those disciplines and beautifully unites them.

The latest work in the exhibition, The Long Road to Mazatlán, examines the mythic codes of sexuality of the West (as they appear to these London-based outsiders) - in particular, the lone white cowboy and it's trajectory within gay culture. This triptych of lush color and layered imagery combines cinematic references to Andy Warhol's Lonesome Cowboys, David Hockney's Swimmers and Pools, and Robert DeNiro's performance as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver.

A catalogue accompanies the exhibition.