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The London-based artist is honoured for his sensual and poetic visual narrative that breaks down barriers between different artistic disciplines

Isaac Julien. Photographer: Thierry Bal
Isaac Julien. Photographer: Thierry Bal

Born in London in 1960, Isaac Julien is an international filmmaker who has produced work for cinema, television and art museums and galleries throughout his career. He studied fine arts and film at St. Martin’s School of Art and in the 1980s co-founded the “Sankofa Film and Video Collective”, which is dedicated to the development of an independent black film culture. Along with a number of black and Asian filmmakers, he is regarded as a pioneer of international black cinema.

His international breakthrough came in 1989 with the film Looking for Langston, a poetic exploration of the writings of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. The film received several awards. His feature film debut Young Soul Rebels from 1991 was also awarded at the Cannes Film Festival.

Isaac Julien has been showing his museum work as film installations on several screens since the mid-1990s. He is considered a pioneer of this form of presentation. At the same time, he always produces a work version for the cinema. During the same period, Julien continued to make poetic documentaries, such as the biopic about British film director and artist Derek Jarman entitled Derek (2008) – shot with actress and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton about the life, art and films of Jarman .

Isaac Julien’s recent works include Lessons of the Hour: Frederick Douglass (2019) and Lina Bo Bardi: A Marvelous Entanglement (2020). Lessons of the Hour tells the story of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who campaigned for the abolition of slavery and became one of the most photographed men of the 19th century. Lina Bo Bardi is a renowned Brazilian modernist architect portrayed by Oscar-nominated actress Fernanda Montenegro.

Isaac Julien lives and works primarily in London and is a professor at UC Santa Cruz. He has been a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for more than 20 years. In 2017 he was honoured by the British Queen Elizabeth II for services to art and film and in 2018 he was made a “Royal Academician”.

In their justification, the Kaiserring jury wrote about Isaac Julien: “He breaks down barriers between different artistic disciplines by drawing from film, dance, photography, music, theatre, painting and sculpture and uniting them in a highly sensual visual narrative . Julien’s work deals with important social and human issues of our time – racism, migration, diversity, queerness, homophobia and chauvinism – and encourages us to rethink and explore social responsibility.” Isaac Julien combines pointed political expressiveness with an aesthetic of visual seduction. “In his films and video installations, which have a painterly power, he uses historical paintings as pictorial elements, museums as settings, and charges the cinematic space as a kind of “tableau vivant”*. In doing so, he has created a poetic and unique visual language.”

Isaac Julien will personally receive the Kaiserring from the city of Goslar, one of the most prestigious contemporary art awards, in the Goslar Imperial Palace. The ceremony is scheduled for October 8th.

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