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Isaac Julien (British, born 1960)
Untitled (Déjà-Vu No.2, Baltimore Series)
Digital ink jet print with gold leaf on Somerset Enhanced Velvet paper
Two parts, 20 x 30 inches each
From The Rivington Place Portfolio.
Edition of 70. Published by Brodsky Center, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Collaborating Master Printer: Randy Hemminghaus.

Isaac Julien

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The narratives in Julien’s films represent, in his words, “artistic expression that is animated from a black perspective,” which he felt was thoroughly lacking in the late 1980s, when he began his career.  Time, music, sound rhythm, and scenography are equally important components of his films, which are typically projected on multiple screens.  

Untitled (Déjà-Vu No.2, Baltimore Series) are prints of production stills for Julien’s 16mm film Baltimore (2003), shot in the city’s Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Peabody Library, and The Walters Art Museum.  The three waxwork figures represent notable Marylanders—gospel singer Pauline Wells Lewis (c. 1911–1998); homeless shelter founder Beatrice F. “Bea” Gaddy (1933–2001); and former Democratic Congressman Kweisi Mfume (born 1948)—seemingly admiring late Renaissance paintings in the Walters Art Museum, including the Allegory of the Element Earth (c. 1580) by Leandro Bassano (1557–1622).

Julien says his intention is to bring together two worlds, black wax works and Renaissance artworks—two western cultures, with black culture seen as deriving from meeting western culture, around slavery.”  Two additional contexts are also drawn together here: Julien’s interest in unveiling the constructed nature of museums’ display, a subject matter of his earlier films; and his study of the styles, gestures, iconography, and language of cult blaxploitation movies, the first film genre that directly addressed black audiences, and the main theme of Baltimore and Julien’s TV documentary Baadasssss Cinema (2002).

These production images are document, instrument, and artwork at once, in a unique combination of fiction, documentary, and artistic techniques. The ambiguity triggered by the instrumental quality of museum and movie sets, props, and hot cinema illumination, is further reflected in the golden border framing the images, referencing multiple perspectives on notions of style and value, high and popular culture.

This print was created in collaboration with Rivington Place, the first visual arts center in London dedicated to the study and presentation of diverse cultural backgrounds, celebrating ten years on October 5, 2017.