ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Galerie Ron Mandos proudly presents Lessons of the Hour by Isaac Julien CBE RA. This solo exhibition by the artist features the photographs of Lessons of the Hour and is the worldwide premiere of the single screen film from 2019. The exhibition also includes Julien’s first film Who Killed Colin Roach? from 1983. Both works prophetically resonate with the current debates around Black Lives Matter and question our relationship to abolitionism and histories of slavery.
Lessons of the Hour
Lessons of the Hour is a poetic portrait of the orator, philosopher, intellectual and self-liberated freedom fighter Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), who was born into slavery in Maryland, USA. He campaigned across Britain and Europe against slavery and for freedom and social justice. Filmed at sites in London, Edinburgh and at Douglass’ home in Washington D.C., Julien’s film combines tableaux vivants which imagine scenes from Douglass’s public and private life, with footage from the present day.
In the film, the character of Douglass interacts with other cultural icons of his time. Mostly women, these characters were chosen for being representatives of ideals of equality, which were as important then as they are today. The film features Anna Murray and Helen Pitts, who were respectively Douglass’ first and second wives. Anna Murray Douglass was responsible for helping Douglass achieve not only his freedom, but she also supported him throughout his life and managed their home during his long absences. Anna and Ellen Richardson were two English Quakeresses who enabled Douglass to return to America as a free man. Susan B. Anthony was one of the most important American suffragists as well as Douglass’ longtime friend. On the day he died, he had been on stage for the last time in the company of Susan B. Anthony. Ottilie Assing was a feminist friend, who translated Douglass’ autobiography into German and engaged with the abolitionist cause by writing numerous articles published in Germany for the first time.
James Presley Ball was one of the first African American prominent photographers, a friend of Douglass, and a campaigner for anti-lynching. In the film, Ball’s photographic salon and studio are restaged while we hear parts of Douglass’ speech on photography, titled Lecture on Pictures. In this text, Douglass precedes Walter Benjamin’s idea of the reproductibility of images and the loss of their aura by almost forty years.
Through extensive use of Frederick Douglass’ timely words Julien gives expression to the zeitgeist of Douglass’ era, his legacy, and ways in which his story may be viewed today. The work was shot in Washington D.C., at The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, where Douglass lived late in life, and where his house in Cedar Hill has been kept conserved as it was during the abolitionist’s time. In Scotland, where Douglass was an active member of the Send Back the Money movement, and where he delivered a number of anti-slavery speeches, Julien has reconstructed scenes of Douglass’ life. His speeches have been restaged inside London’s Royal Academy of Arts to an audience, which includes both 19th century characters, and also contemporary, real-life characters such as scholars and Royal Academicians. Douglass delivered more than three hundred lectures in England, Scotland and Ireland as he sought to affirm his struggle for equality as a global citizen, who was very much ahead of his time.
Who Killed Colin Roach? (1983)
Who Killed Colin Roach? is Isaac Julien’s first film, which reflects upon the death of Colin Roach, a 23-year-old who was shot in Stoke Newington Police Station in North London, in 1982. Even though the police claimed Roach had committed suicide, evidence showed otherwise.
In 2018, while Julien was making Lessons of the Hour, he rediscovered photographs in his archive and reassembled the images so they dialogue with Lessons of the Hour. They show the people marching and demanding an independent enquiry into the circumstances of Colin Roach’s death. Intimidatory police tactics against the campaign demonstrations have been choreographed to the militant beat of the Mad Professor’s dub score, and the unity of black politics and culture is vividly conveyed by the poets and musicians who perform at a benefit for the campaign.