ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Galerie Ron Mandos is proud to present an important archival exhibition on the seminal poetic film Looking for Langston (1989) by Isaac Julien. The series is an homage by acclaimed artist Isaac Julien (1960, London) to Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. This award-winning film, shown in it’s original 16 mm format, is accompanied by photographic work that explores the fractured narratives of memory and desire.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an American poet and writer. With his poems Hughes fought for awareness and empowerment in the African-American community, and against racism and discrimination. Although it was commonly presumed that he was gay, he never openly came out. Julien’s film portrays Langston Hughes as an African-American cultural icon with a repressed gay desire. He explores the ambiguous sexual subtexts of a period of rich artistic expression, and the enduring cultural significance of these pioneers’ work.
Julien mediates with a poetic, lyrical perspective on Langston Hughes coming out. The film shows a juxtaposition between the past and the present. The Harlem Renaissance was a flowering of African-American social thought that was expressed through the arts in the 1920s. Extracts from Hughes’ poetry is interwoven with the work of cultural figures from the 1920s and 1980s, including black poets Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) and Bruce Nugent (1906-1987), constructing a lyrical and multilayered narrative.
An important aspect of Looking for Langston is it’s timely treatment of the above themes. Julien contrasts the ravages of the AIDS epidemic – which was at its height during filming – with this lyrical exploration of the past.
While Julien was directing the film, he studied the photographs of James Van der Zee, George Platt Lynes and Robert Mapplethorpe. Working with Nina Kellgren (cinematographer) and Sunil Gupta (photographer), he created three photographic series. These photographs deploy an array of old and new technologies. For Julien, the photographs act as memorial sites. One can see a direct relation between these images imbued with references to the history of 1930s black and white African-American photography and 1980s queer cultures.
Isaac Julien is a Turner prize nominated artist and filmmaker. Julien has pioneered a form of multi-screen installations, including light-boxes and photographic works with ”Western Union: Small Boats” (2007), ”Ten Thousand Waves” (2010) and ”Playtime: Kapital” (2014) which were featured in the 56th Biennale di Venezia (2015). He has exhibited his work in museums and institutions across the world including ”Ten Thousand Waves” at Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013-2014), which was exhibited at Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris (2016). In 2015, Julien had a retrospective entitled ”RIOT” at the De Pont Museum (Tilburg, the Netherlands). His work was featured in the group show ”The 1980s” at the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, the Netherlands). In 2016, he showed ”Playtime’‘ and ”Kapital” at El Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City. Julien’s work ”Territories” is also on view at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Julien is currently producing a new work that is a poetic meditation on aspects of the life and architecture of Lina Bo Bardi. The first chapter of this work, ”Stones Against Diamonds”, was shown during 2015’s La Biennale di Venezia, Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, and is currently also showing together with Looking for Langston at Galerie Ron Mandos. After teaching at Harvard University (1998-2002), Julien was Professor of Media Art at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe (2009-2015) and Chair of Global Art at University of Arts London (2014-2016).