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Isaac Julien

Born, 1960 in London, England

Isaac Julien is a London-based film-maker. He was - together with Martina Attille, Maureen Blackwoord and Nadine Marsh-Edwards - a member of the Sankofa film collective. He directed Who Killed Colin Roach? (1984) and Territories (1985). Isaac Julien co-directed The Passion of Remembrance (1986). He gave a paper for The Thematics and Aesthetic Shifts in Practice since the 1980s panel at the Shades of Black conference, 20 April 2001, Duke University.

From the archived Documenta 11 website: www.documenta12.de//archiv/d11/data/english/index.html

Isaac Julien was a founding member of Sankofa Film/Video Collective, one of a number of film and video workshops that were set up in the UK in the 1980s to engage a new politics of representation. Sankofa’s films were centrally concerned with the struggle to find a language to reflect the black experience and explore contested notions of black identities. In Looking for Langston (1989), Julien began an on-going personal and poetic exploration of these issues within a highly worked aesthetic. In his multi- channel installation work, Julien develops a post-cinematic practice of the moving image. Through its intense engagement of visual pleasure, it is at the same time concerned to expose, deflect, and reconstruct the cinematic gaze and in so doing open the audience to other concerns: complex subjective moves explore a wide range of psychic differences where questions of gender, race, or sexual difference become a matter of indirect reference rather than embodiment.”

Looking for Langston is by far, filmmaker Isaac Julien’s most celebrated, challenging and enduring work. Made in 1989 in black and white, Looking for Langston has at its core a critical re-examination of the poet laureate of Black America, Langston Hughes. The film explores the ambiguities of Hughes’ sexuality and in some ways seeks to reinterpret him – or perhaps rescue him – as a gay icon not only of the Harlem Renaissance and Black America, but also for people within the African Diaspora at the present time.  As such, the film is in part at least an examination of Black male homosexual identity in late 1980s London. To this end, Looking for Langston weaves a variety of multiple narratives, touching on the seemingly troubled interplay between white gay men and Black gay men, and the ever-present spectre of racism, discrimination and invisibility. This is, as mentioned, a very challenging film, not only in terms of its subject, but also the ways in which its content is presented. The film eschews conventional approaches to the documentary and weaves instead a sequence of overlapping creative and fictional narratives, interwoven with archival footage and a sometimes-beautiful soundtrack.

Several stills from Isaac Julien’s films are reproduced in Gen Doy’s book, Black Visual Culture, I.B. Tauris, 2000. A work of Julien’s also adorns the cover of the book.

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