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b. 1960, United Kingdom

Isaac Julien Biography

British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien creates multi-screen film installations and photographic works characterised by lyrical scenes and interlocking narratives exploring questions of race, representation, postcolonialism, and queer experience and history.

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Isaac Julien began his career as an aspiring independent filmmaker while studying at Central Saint Martins in 1983, when he co-founded the Sankofa Film and Video collective with Martina Attille, Maureen Blackwood, Nadine Marsh-Edwards, and Robert Crusz. In his 2014 conversation with Ocula Magazine, the artist described his years with Sankofa as being instrumental in his later practice, providing the drive and creative atmosphere to push for recognition.

Isaac Julien is a pioneer of New Queer Cinema, highlighting black queer experience generally absent from mainstream films. Looking for Langston, which premiered at the 1989 Berlin International Film Festival, garnered critical acclaim for its seamless integration of documentary and fiction to examine American poet Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. In 1991, Julien won the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Young Soul Rebels: a coming-of-age thriller set in the 1970s in London and revolving around the murder of a Black gay man.

Colonisation and its ongoing legacy are common themes in Isaac Julien's work, as can be seen in Vagabondia (2000). The seven-minute film, which was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001, follows a black female curator during a night inspection of Sir John Soane's Museum in London. Apparitions dwell about the premises, including Soane himself and a black male dancer whose presence perhaps references the colonial origins of the museum's collection.

Isaac Julien also addresses migration, diaspora, and cultural displacement through fractured and overlapping film narratives. Western Union: Small Boats (2007), included in the inaugural Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017), traces historical and contemporary migration stories, while the nine-screen film installation Ten Thousand Waves (2010), inspired by the death of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers in the 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster, weaves together China's past and present.

The life and work of Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi has been central to Isaac Julien's projects since 2012. Stones Against Diamonds (2015), presented at the 56th Venice Biennale, is a five-screen film installation inspired by a letter Bo Bardi wrote to her husband. In it, she explains her love for the organic beauty of uncut, semi-precious stones, which, in his film, Julien likens to the frozen landscape of Icelandic ice caves.

Stones Against Diamonds later developed into the film Lina Bo Bardi: A Marvellous Entanglement (2019), which combines elements of biopic with interlocking narratives characteristic of Julien's work to commemorate Bo Bardi. Filmed on site at some of Bo Bardi's most iconic works, among them the São Paulo Museum of Art, SESC Pompéia, and Teatro Oficina, Julien's film contemplates her use of vernacular materials and her vision of architecture as a social space.

Isaac Julien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the Arts in 2017, and was elected as a Royal Academician in the following year.

Isaac Julien Solo Exhibitions include:

Western Union: Small Boats, Neuberger Museum of Art, New York (2020); Lina Bo Bardi: A Marvellous Entanglement, Victoria Miro, London (2019); Playtime, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2019); Lessons of the Hour, Metro Pictures, New York (2019); Western Union: Small Boats, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark (2018); 'I Dream a World' Looking for Langston, Victoria Miro, London (2017).

Isaac Julien Group Exhibitions include:

New Masculinities: Photography and Film from the 1960s to Now, Barbican Centre, London (2020); Histórias afro-atlânticas: filmes e vídeos, Museu de Arte de São Paulo (2018); Jaguars and Electric Eels, Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin (2017); Metrópole, Galeria Nara Roesler, São Paulo (2017); Mobile M+: Moving Images, M+, Hong Kong (2015); Vagabondia, Tate Modern, London (2014).

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020

Artwork © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, and Gagosian. 

Isaac Julien Featured Artworks

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Baltimore by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork moving image
Isaac JulienBaltimore, 200316mm colour film transferred to DVD with sound
Metro Pictures Contact Gallery
Lina Bo Bardi - A Marvellous Entanglement by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork moving image
Isaac JulienLina Bo Bardi - A Marvellous Entanglement, 2019Nine screen installation, Super High Definition (4K), Colour, 9.1 Surround Sound and ash wood plinths
Victoria Miro Enquire
foils mounted on aludibond, KODAK Duraclear mounted onto plexi, collage of solvent inkjet print on foil by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork painting
Isaac Julienfoils mounted on aludibond, KODAK Duraclear mounted onto plexi, collage of solvent inkjet print on foil, 2018foils mounted on aludibond, KODAK Duraclear mounted onto plexi, collage of solvent inkjet print on foil
84 x 110 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery Contact Gallery
The Oracle- Bronze (Radioactive Avatar #12) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork painting
Isaac JulienThe Oracle- Bronze (Radioactive Avatar #12), 2018coloured foils and inkjet prints on dibond
87 x 62 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery Contact Gallery
MIDNIGHT SUN (Playtime) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork photography
Isaac JulienMIDNIGHT SUN (Playtime), 2013Endura Ultra Photograph
160 x 240 cm
Victoria Miro Enquire
After October (Playtime) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork photography
Isaac JulienAfter October (Playtime), 2013Endura ultra photograph, metacrylate
120 x 180 cm
Galeria Nara Roesler Contact Gallery

Isaac Julien Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Isaac Julien Represented By

Galeria Nara Roesler contemporary art gallery in São Paulo, Brazil Galeria Nara Roesler New York, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo
Metro Pictures contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Metro Pictures New York
Victoria Miro contemporary art gallery in Wharf Road, London, United Kingdom Victoria Miro London, New York, Venice

Isaac Julien In Ocula Magazine

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Isaac Julien In Related Press

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