By Joan Lee
Isaac Julien made his entrance into the art world in the late 1980s with his seminal film ‘Looking for Langston’, a contemplative celebration of black queerness. He was later awarded the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991 for ‘Young Soul Rebels’, which highlighted unacknowledged racist and homophobic attitudes prevalent in London against a backdrop of seventies disco and radio culture. Julien’s contextual depth and aesthetic vision can be seen again in his latest exhibition that refers to his earlier film, ‘ “I dream a world” Looking for Langston’ at Victoria Miro Gallery.
Julien’s visually arresting installation is luminous and large-scale, a combination of text, documentation and photography. Most notable are the sizeable prints of well-dressed, handsome characters from his film. However, to stop at that would mean to miss the self-determinism of his subject and process.
The film is set in the 1920s Harlem, a pivotal period also known as the Harlem Renaissance. The two protagonists are key literary figures Langston Hughes and his lover, played by Ben Ellison and Matthew Baidoo.
In ‘Pas de Deux with Roses’, two men are engaged in a waltz before a backdrop of roses and white tablecloths. Most of the subjects in this carefree, opulent world are black, upholding an image of socioeconomic high standing typically denied black society in a time of racism and prejudice.
Image: Isaac Julien, “I dream a world” Looking for Langston, installation view
Installation photography: Thierry Bal