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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

Isaac Julien
featured artworks

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Le Reve No.2 (Looking for Langston Vintage Series) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork photography, print
Isaac Julien Le Reve No.2 (Looking for Langston Vintage Series), 1989/2016 Ilford classic silver gelatin fine art paper, mounted on aluminum and framed
58 x 74.5 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery Request Price & Availability
Le Salon (Looking for Langston Vintage Series) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork works on paper, print
Isaac Julien Le Salon (Looking for Langston Vintage Series), 1989/2017 Ilford classic silver gelatin fine art paper, mounted on aluminum and framed
58 x 74.5 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery Request Price & Availability
Harlem Mecca (Once Again... Statues Never Die) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork photography
Isaac Julien Harlem Mecca (Once Again... Statues Never Die), 2022 Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultrasmooth
50 x 75 cm
Victoria Miro Request Price & Availability
To see ourselves as others see us (Lessons of the Hour) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork photography
Isaac Julien To see ourselves as others see us (Lessons of the Hour), 2019 Inkjet photography on glossy paper on aluminium
Galeria Nara Roesler Request Price & Availability
MIDNIGHT SUN (Playtime) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork photography
Isaac Julien MIDNIGHT SUN (Playtime), 2013 Endura Ultra Photograph
160 x 240 cm
Victoria Miro Request Price & Availability
After October (Playtime) by Isaac Julien contemporary artwork photography
Isaac Julien After October (Playtime), 2013 Endura ultra photograph, metacrylate
120 x 180 cm
Galeria Nara Roesler Request Price & Availability
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Isaac Julien
current & recent
exhibitions

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Represented by these
Ocula Member Galleries

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