Isaac Julien: “Lessons of the Hour”

Memorial Gallery, Rochester, NY

February 2 – May 12, 2019


Production | Acquisition Grant

Commissioned by Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) at the University of Rochester, NY, renowned British artist Isaac Julien will premiere a new media work focusing on the entwined histories of the City of Rochester, the development of photography, and civil rights activism. Titled “Lessons of the Hour,” the 35mm black-and-white and color multi-screen installation focuses on abolitionist Frederick Douglass and other preeminent activists for social justice of his time, such as Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells, who fought for women’s right to vote and anti-lynching, respectively. Douglass’ life  in Rochester coincided with the rise of photography as a widespread mass medium. In 1888, George Eastman established the Eastman Kodak Company, turning Rochester into a city where political activism came into direct contact with the power of photography. Focusing on the intersections between the history of photography in the City of Rochester and Douglass’ deep understanding of how the medium could help transform people’s perceptions of African Americans, “Lessons of the Hour” reconstructs and re-imagines these stories from a contemporary perspective, connecting them to our current political and social moment.

“Lessons of the Hour” will open at MAG in two stages, with the presentation of a single-channel 35mm filmic projection on February 3, and a multi-screen video installation on March 3, 2019. Curated by John G. Hanhardt, MAG’s Consulting Senior Curator of Media Arts, Julien’s work is the second exhibition presented as part of MAG’s “Reflections on Place,” a series of media art commissions inspired by Rochester. Other commissions include works by artists Javier Téllez and Dara Birnbaum.

For more information, visit Memorial Art Gallery.

Image: Isaac Julien,  Lessons of the Hour, 2019. Courtesy the artist, Metro Pictures New York and Victoria Miro London/Venice.