Presented in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland and British Council Scotland.
As a highlight of our opening weekend programme, we were delighted to present internationally acclaimed artist Isaac Julien CBE RA in conversation with Celeste-Marie Bernier, Chair of United States and Atlantic Studies, University of Edinburgh.
In a conversation specially recorded in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, and now available to watch on this page, Julien and Bernier discussed Lessons of the Hour. The festival is honoured to present the UK premiere of this important work; the ten-screen film installation is a poetic portrait of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the visionary orator, philosopher, intellectual and self-liberated freedom fighter, who was born into slavery in Maryland, USA. Douglass was a frequent visitor to Edinburgh between 1845-7, as he campaigned against slavery and for freedom and equal rights, and spoke on 7 separate occasions in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms.
Julien describes his approach as ‘a staging of history seen through a contemporary lens’, and this powerful and compelling portrait foregrounds the continuing relevance and urgency of Frederick Douglass’s words in the present day.
Isaac Julien, CBE RA (born 1960) is a critically acclaimed British artist and filmmaker. Current and recent international solo exhibitions include: Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi — A Marvellous Entanglement, CentroCentro (Panorama Madrid), Madrid, Spain, on view until 29 August 2021; Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco (2020–2021); Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi — A Marvellous Entanglement, MAXXI, Rome (2020–2021); Isaac Julien: Western Union: Small Boats, Neuberger Museum, New York (2020); Isaac Julien: Frederick Douglass: Lessons of the Hour, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (2019); Looking for Langston at Tate Britain (2019); and Playtime at LACMA (2019).
Celeste-Marie Bernier, professor of United States and Atlantic Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Bernier specializes in the literatures, histories, politics, visual cultures, and philosophies of women, men, and children living in the African Diaspora. Julien worked closely with Bernier on Lessons of the Hour’s narration to construct “tableaux vivants” that reimagine Douglass’ relationships to a range of key historical figures, including Murray-Douglass, his second wife Helen Pitts, and the suffragette Susan B. Anthony.