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.
Julien’s Vagabondia (2000) is a double-projection installation exploring how structures of power and domination impact historical narratives in museums. Set in London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum, which the architect designed in the early nineteenth century to house his collection of art and artifacts, the video shows a Black female conservator as she moves around the museum at night imagining the ghosts of eighteenth-century Black London. Julien’s video evokes a world of mirrors and shadows, and features a dancing “vagabond” figure who animates a room designed to display William Hogarth’s 1732–34 morality tale A Rake’s Progress. For Julien, the vagabond highlights the ways the museum’s collection has benefitted from colonial exploitation. Julien employs a Creole voiceover to tell the story, representing the complex identities comprising this history.
Isaac Julien (b. 1960, London) has been honored with solo shows at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York (2021); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2019); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013); Art Institute of Chicago (2013); Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2009); and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2000); among many others. His work is represented in prestigious collections 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; Museum Brandhorst, Munich; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; and de la Cruz Collection, Miami.