Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour – Frederick Douglass

The Memorial Art Gallery, New York, United States
03 Mar 2019 - 12 May 2019

Isaac Julien, Lessons of the Hour (still), 2019. Courtesy the Artist, Metro Pictures New York, and Victoria Miro London/Venice.

Isaac Julien, Lessons of the Hour (still), 2019. Courtesy the Artist, Metro Pictures New York, and Victoria Miro London/Venice.

The Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester is pleased to announce the exhibition Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass, featuring a ten-screen installation titled Lessons of the Hour by artist Isaac Julien.

The work is inspired by episodes in the life of Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), and the issues of social justice that shaped his life’s work. Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass will open at MAG on March 3, 2019, with a two-gallery presentation featuring, in the first gallery, three tintypes—an early type of photography in which the photographic emulsion is presented on a metal plate. These are portraits of performers in Lessons of the Hour. The second gallery will showcase the world premiere of the ten-screen film installation.

Isaac Julien created the installation using both analogue and digital technologies: 35mm color film as well as 4k digital. Julien describes the exhibition as a “staging of history seen through a contemporary lens. It opens with tintypes suggesting the archive of the past, and which take on additional resonance in the multi-screen installation that follows.”

Frederick Douglass was a visionary African American abolitionist, a freed slave who was also the most photographed man of the 19th century. Julien’s project is informed by some of the abolitionist’s most important speeches, such as “Lessons of the Hour,” “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?” and “Lecture on Pictures,” the latter being a text that connects picture-making and photography to his vision of how technology can influence human relations. In the film, the character of Douglass will interact with other cultural icons of his time, namely photographer J.P. Ball; Anna Murray and Helen Pitts, who were Douglass’ two wives; Anna and Ellen Richardson, the two English Quakeresses who allowed Douglass to return to America as a free man; Susan B. Anthony, the suffragist and Douglass’ longtime friend; Ottilie Assing, a feminist friend and lover; and Ida B. Wells, the anti- lynching black-people’s rights activist. Mostly women, these characters were chosen for being representatives of ideals of equality, which were as important then as they are today.

Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass is the second exhibition in MAG’s “Reflections on Place” series of media art commissions informed by the history, culture, and politics of the City of Rochester, New York.




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