Born 1960 in London, United Kingdom. Lives and works in London
© Normal Films. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Colin Salmon as Frantz Fanon in Isaac Julien's “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask,” 1996. © Normal Films. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Isaac Julien was a founding member of Sankofa Film/Video Collective, one of a number of film and video workshops set up in the UK in the 1980s in the aftermath of the protests against British racism, with the aim of forming a new politics of representation. Together with Black Audio Film Collective, Sankofa affectively created a new genre, contesting the realism of both the British documentary movement and of fiction feature films. Sankofas first productions, “Territories” (dir. Julien, 1984) and “The Passion of Remembrance” (dir. Julien & Maureen Blackwood, 1986), questioned the conventions of documentary by combining it with fictional dramatization. The films main concern was the struggle to find a language to reflect the black experience and explore contested notions of black experience. With “Looking for Langston” (1984), Julien begins an ongoing personal and poetic exploration of these issues within a highly worked aesthetic. “Looking for Langston” is a reworking of the biography of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes as a poetic meditation on the resonance of his work today, focusing particularly on the repressed gay subtext in Hughes' writing. Julien has made a number of films for television, including the series “Black and White in Colour” (1992) and “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask” (1996), in which he reads the archive “against itself.” In the former, he unearths the television archive's history of the first generation of postwar black performers and entertainers in Britain. The latter film uses images from the French colonial archives to visualize the ideas of one of the greatest contemporary black psychiatrists, philosophers, and revolutionaries. In his multi-channel installation work, Julien develops a post-cinematic practice of the moving image. Through its intense engagement in visual pleasure, this work is also concerned to expose, deflect, and reconstruct the cinematic gaze and in so doing to open the audience to other concerns: complex subjective moves explore a wide range of psychological nuances where questions of gender, race, or sexual difference become a matter of indirect reference rather than embodiment. One group of works, “The Attendant” (1993), “Three (The Conservator's Dream)” (1996-98), and “Vagabondia” (2000), constitutes a trilogy reflecting on the institution of the museum and the position of black subjects within it. “The Long Road to Mazatlan” (2000), focuses on sexual and racial border crossings, unpacking gay Western iconography. Julien's recent work for Documenta 11, “Paradise Omeros,” explores the emblematic search for the “new life” promised by the West through an allegorical reworking of a wide range of cultural references.
Contribution: Participates in Station 3: The Movie Theater East of Eden, Aarhus, with “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask,” United Kingdom 1996. 35mm (color), 72 min. Courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, and The British Film Institute, London. The film is screened on Tuesday, September 28, 2004, from 7:30 – 9:30 pm.