Isaac Julien was born in London in 1960 and studied at St Martin’s School of Art (1980-84). He was a founder of Sankofa Film and Video Collective (1984) and Normal Films (1990). His work was included in the exhibitions Mirage, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1995), Scream and Scream Again, Museum of Modern Art Oxford (1996) and the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale. Among other awards he was presented with the Wexner Museum Fine Arts International Artist Award in 1996 and the Andy Warhol Foundation Award in1998. In 1999 he was International Artist in Residence at Art Pace, San Antonio, USA. In 2000 he presented Cinerama at Cornerhouse, Manchester, touring to the South London Art Gallery. In 2000 a major survey of his work was presented at the Bard Collge Centre for Curatorial Studies, New York. In his role as cultural theorist and writer Julien has taught widely in both the UK and USA.
Julien’s films include Territories (1984), The Passion of Remembrance with Maureen Blackwood (1986), Looking for Langston (1989), a poetic documentary that brought his work to wider attention, and The Attendant (1992). In 1991 he directed the feature film Young Soul Rebels, which won the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The film explored themes of race and homophobia, creating a picture of London in the summer of 1977 that diverges from the more familiar, official views of the Jubilee year. Franz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (1996) examined the author, intellectual and activist whose work has re-emerged at the forefront of postcolonial discourse. Julien has created a number of video installations made specifically for a gallery context, often using multiple screens. He has also produced still photographs, to accompany his installations and as independent works.
Julien’s work examines themes of sexuality, beauty, identity and race. In particular he has encompassed issues of masculinity and homosexuality in relation to black male identity. He has often used black and white or sepia, in preference to colour, as in the elegiac video installation Three, shown at the Victoria Miro Gallery in1999, his first solo exhibition in London. The film explored the theme of desire through dance, featuring the choreographers Bebe Miller and Ralph Lemon and British actress Cleo Sylvestre. Julien’s use of dance and choreography continues in his recent work, The Long Road to Mazatlán (1999), a collaboration with the Venezuelan-born but London based choreographer Javier de Frutos, commissioned by Art Pace. Shot in colour, The Long Road to Mazatlán explores white masculinity and desire in the context of mythologies of the American West, particularly the position of the cowboy as a gay icon. The work makes reference to Tenessee Williams, Warhol’s film Lonesome Cowboys, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and the work of David Hockney. In contrast, the second collaboration by Julien and de Frutos, Vagabondia (2000), is set in the context of a museum in which a conservator (Cleo Sylvestre) acts as mediator between past and present.
Julien has been consistently interested in breaking down barriers between different disciplines and genres. His films have combined fictional narratives with documentary and film-art techniques. He has also been concerned with exploring common ground between art, cinematic film, dance, photography, music and theatre