Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One)

UK premiere, presented by Edinburgh Art Festival in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland.

Presented in partnership with National Galleries Scotland, this new ten-screen film installation by internationally acclaimed British filmmaker Isaac Julien, offers a poetic meditation on the life and times of Frederick Douglass, the visionary African American orator, philosopher, intellectual, and self-liberated freedom-fighter, who was born into slavery in Maryland, USA. From 1845-7, Douglass made repeated visits to Edinburgh, while campaigning across the UK and Ireland against US slavery.

Filmed at sites in Edinburgh, London and Washington D.C, Julien’s work is informed by some of Douglass’ most important speeches, including “Lessons of the Hour,” “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?” and “Lecture on Pictures”. In this 1861 lecture, Douglass, who as the most photographed American in the 19th century was keenly alert to the power of images, expressed his vision of how picture-making and photography could offer powerful tools in the fight for social justice and equal human rights for all.

Julien’s work unfolds across ten screens evoking the style of a 19th century salon hang, and combining tableaux vivants which imagine Douglass with key figures from his public and private life, with montaged footage from recent times, weaving together present and past. Describing his approach as ‘a staging of history seen through a contemporary lens’, Julien’s powerful and compelling portrait foregrounds the continued relevance and urgency of Douglass’s words in the present day.

The film installation is accompanied by Julien’s tin-types and mise-en-scène photographs.

The exhibition also features a short film created by Shifting Vision, an innovative art platform exploring the relationship between art and actuality. Following in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass throughout the city of Edinburgh, the film brings to life Isaac Julien’s visionary Lessons of the Hour through the insights of the artist, Sorcha Carey, and Celeste Marie-Bernier.

Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour is presented by Edinburgh Art Festival in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland. Supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund and EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, with additional support from British Council Scotland, ProAV, David Narro Associates, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, and MacFadden & Thorpe.

Lessons of the Hour was originally commissioned and acquired by the Memorial Art Gallery with the partnership of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and with generous support from Mark Falcone and Ellen Bruss, the Zell Family, Ford Foundation, VIA Art Fund, Lori Van Dusen, and Deborah Ronnen and Sherman Levey. The commission was also made possible by Barbara and Aaron Levine, the Maurice and Maxine Forman Fund, the Marion Stratton Gould Fund, the Herdle-Moore Fund, the Strasenburgh Fund, and the Lyman K. and Eleanore B. Stuart Endowment Fund at the Memorial Art Gallery, and the Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Production of the work was generously supported by Metro Pictures, New York; Victoria Miro, London/Venice; the Arts Division of the University of California Santa Cruz; and by Eastman Kodak Company, on whose film stock the installation was shot. With additional support from Linda Pace Foundation, and Carol Weinbaum (Outset Contemporary Art Fund/CAF Canada).

Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour


Isaac Julien


Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One)

75 Belford Road, Edinburgh EH4 3DR

0131 624 6200

Opening times

29 July – 10 October


10am – 5pm

Visitor information

  • Wheelchair Accessible
  • Accessible Toilets
  • Toilets
  • Babychange
  • Café
  • Shop
  • Bike Stand
  • Hearing Loop
  • Changing Places

COVID Safety

All festival venues have safety measures in place to follow the latest Government advice and guidelines

Find out more

Ticket information

Free, advance booking required

Book now

National Galleries Scotland Socials


Edinburgh Art Festival Socials


Keynote Lecture: Isaac Julien

As a highlight of our opening weekend programme, we were delighted to present internationally acclaimed artist Isaac Julien in conversation with Celeste-Marie Bernier.

Watch Here

Commissions Programme

This year we are proud to collaborate with a range of partners to support and present a programme of new commissions and UK premieres by artists working in Scotland, UK and internationally.

Find out more

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One)

Home to some of the world’s most famous art, the National Galleries of Scotland comprises four gallery buildings in Edinburgh: the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One and Two).

Find out more

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One)

75 Belford Road, Edinburgh EH4 3DR

You Might Also Like

A selection of similarly themed events