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True North, 2004
One of today’s most prominent and influential figures in media art and film, Isaac Julien creates audiovisual installations, documentaries, and photographs that explore Black and queer histories and identities. Julien gained international attention for his iconic film Looking for Langston (1989), a montage that reimagines the life of poet, novelist, and playwright Langston Hughes during the Harlem Renaissance. Julien’s works emerge from in-depth investigations of history, blurring the barriers between film, dance, photography, music, theater, painting, and sculpture.
Featuring stills from Julien’s film True North (2005), this eponymous triptych offers a fragmented narrative about the discovery of the North Pole. The work is based on the story of the Black American explorer Matthew Henson (1866–1955), who worked for and collaborated with the white explorer Robert Peary and was one of the first people to reach the North Pole. Julien revisits this history in order to credit Henson’s achievements, which were nearly erased by a prejudiced history that only attributed fame to Peary. In cool tones of white, blue, and black, the panels retell Henson’s discovery, showing him walking toward a single point in an expansive ice terrain, his silhouette growing smaller as he progresses toward the horizon. Repeated three times at slightly different angles, the images deviate from one another, offering different visual interpretations of the same scene.
Isaac Julien (b. 1960, London) has exhibited nationally and internationally, with solo shows at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York (2021); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2019); Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City (2016); De Pont Museum, Tilburg, The Netherlands (2015); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013); Art Institute of Chicago (2013); Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (2012); Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach (2010); Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2009); Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (2005); and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2000). His work has been featured in groups shows at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2019); Minsheng Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai (2016); National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (2013); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1993, 2007); Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Grenoble, France (2006); Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2001); and MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens (2001). Julien is represented in museum and private collections throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern; UK Government Art Collection; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; and Museum Brandhorst, Munich. Julien currently lives and works in London and Santa Cruz, California.