This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. See Wikipedia's guide to writing better articles for suggestions. (January 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Isaac Julien

Born (1960-02-21) 21 February 1960 (age 63)
EducationCentral Saint Martins
Occupation(s)Installation artist and filmmaker
Employer(s)Goldsmiths, University of London

Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design

University of California, Santa Cruz
Known forLooking for Langston (1989)

Sir Isaac Julien CBE RA (born 21 February 1960[1]) is a British installation artist, filmmaker,[2] and Distinguished Professor of the Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz.[3]

Early life

Julien was born in the East End of London, one of the five children of his parents, who had migrated to Britain from St Lucia.[1] He graduated in 1985 from Saint Martin's School of Art, where he studied painting and fine art film. He co-founded Sankofa Film and Video Collective in 1983,[1] and was a founding member of Normal Films in 1991.[4]


In 1980, Julien organized the Sankofa Film and Video Collective[5] with, among others, Martina Attille, Maureen Blackwood, Nadine Marsh-Edwards, which was "dedicated to developing an independent black film culture in the areas of production, exhibition and audience". He received a BA in fine-art film from Central Saint Martins School of Art, London (1984),[4] where he worked alongside artists including Sandra Lahire, Malcolm Le Grice, Lis Rhodes, Vera Neubauer, Adam Finch, and Tina Keane, and completed his postdoctoral studies at Les entrepreneurs de l'audiovisuel européen, Brussels (1989).[6]


Julien achieved prominence in the film world with his 1989 drama-documentary Looking for Langston, gaining a cult following with this poetic exploration of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. His following grew when his film Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize for best film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991.[7]

One of the objectives of Julien's work is to break down the barriers that exist between different artistic disciplines, drawing from and commenting on film, dance, photography, music, theatre, painting and sculpture, and uniting these to construct a powerfully visual narrative. Thematically, much of his work directly relates to experiences of black and gay identity (he is himself gay),[2] including issues of class, sexuality, and artistic and cultural history.[8][9]

Julien is a documentary filmmaker, and his work in this genre includes BaadAsssss Cinema, a film on the history and influence of blaxploitation cinema.[10]

In 2023, the Tate Gallery in London held a major retrospective of his work titled What Freedom Is to Me.[9][11][12]


Julien cites cultural theorist and sociologist Stuart Hall as an important influence on his filmmaking. Hall narrates a portion of Looking for Langston. Julien involves Hall in his work once more in the 1996 film Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask,[13] which tells the story of Frantz Fanon, the theorist and psychiatrist from Martinique.[14] As a member of the Sankofa Film and Video Collective, Julien made The Passion of Remembrance (1986), "which attempts to deal with the difficulties of constructing a documentary history of black political experience by foregrounding questions of chauvinism and homophobia."[15]

Other activities

Since 2018, Julien has been a member of the Curatorial Advisory Group at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.[16] In 2019, he was a member of the jury that selected Arthur Jafa as winner of the Prince Pierre Foundation's International Contemporary Art Prize.[17][18]


Julien was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001, and in 2003 he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Kunstfilm Biennale in Cologne for his single-screen version of Baltimore.

Julien was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to the arts[19] and was knighted in the 2022 Birthday Honours for services to diversity and inclusion in art.[20] He was elected a Royal Academician in 2017.[21]

Personal life

Julien currently divides his time between living and working in London, England, and Santa Cruz, California. He works with his partner Mark Nash.

Julien was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University's Departments of Afro-American and Visual Environmental Studies, and was a visiting seminar leader in the MFA Art Practice programme at the School of Visual Arts, and a visiting professor at the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York City. He was also a research fellow at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and in September 2009 he became a professor at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design.[22]

In 2018, Julien joined UC Santa Cruz, where he is the distinguished professor of the arts.[23]

Julien is a patron of the Live Art Development Agency.[24]

Selected bibliography

Installation pieces

Playtime at the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art in the Netherlands




  1. ^ a b c Annette Kuhn, "Julien, Isaac (1960–)", BFI Screen Online.
  2. ^ a b Rich, B. Ruby (14 May 2002). "Still a soul rebel: the work of Young Soul Rebels director Isaac Julien, from his films to his video installations, is honored with a retrospective". The Advocate. Archived from the original on 12 February 2007. Retrieved 1 April 2007.
  3. ^ "Isaac Julien |". Retrieved 23 April 2023.
  4. ^ a b Barnett, Laura (26 November 2013). "Isaac Julien, artist – portrait of the artist". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  5. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Sankofa Film and Video Biography". Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  6. ^ "About Isaac Julien". Isaac Julien. Retrieved 23 April 2023.
  7. ^ "Artworks". Isaac Julien. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  8. ^ Dunks, Glenn (17 February 2018). "Isaac Julien: 'It's another watershed moment for history of queer rights'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  9. ^ a b Fullerton, Elizabeth (28 April 2023). "Looking for Freedom, Isaac Julien Comes Home". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  10. ^ "BaadAsssss Cinema". Isaac Julien. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  11. ^ Tate. "Isaac Julien | Tate Britain". Tate. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  12. ^ Cumming, Laura (30 April 2023). "Isaac Julien: What Freedom Is to Me review – ghosts, dandies and seduction". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  13. ^ Weston, K. (January 2018). "Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask". Sight & Sound. 28 (1): 100–103 – via International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance.
  14. ^ Julien, Isaac (June 2015). "Muse: Stuart Hall". Art in America (June/July Issue): 48–49. Archived from the original on 3 June 2015. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  15. ^ Shail, Robert. (2007). British film directors : a critical guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748629688. OCLC 430823389.
  16. ^ Olivier, Danielle (3 October 2018). "Zeitz MOCCA announces creation of Curatorial Advisory Group". Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Press release).
  17. ^ Armstrong, Annie (17 April 2019), "Here's the Shortlist for the $85,000 Prix International d’Art Contemporain", ARTnews.
  18. ^ "Arthur Jafa Wins $83,000 International Prize for Contemporary Art", Artforum, 16 October 2019.
  19. ^ "No. 61962". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 2017. p. B9.
  20. ^ "No. 63714". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 June 2022. p. B2.
  21. ^ "Isaac Julien – Artist". London: Royal Academy of Arts.
  22. ^ "TALK to the director ISAAC JULIEN". QUEER ACADEMY. 16 March 2019. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  23. ^ Hernandez-Jason, Scott (25 September 2018). "New faculty to advance campus teaching, research". UC Santa Cruz News. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  24. ^ "Live Art Development Agency". Archived from the original on 3 October 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  25. ^ Sinanovic, Jasmina (24 September 2013). "Isaac Julien to Deliver the 2004 Kessler Lecture, December 10 – CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies". Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  26. ^ "Isaac Julien to deliver the James R. Brunder '83 Memorial Prize Lectures | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies". September 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  27. ^ "Goslarer Kaiserring 2022 geht an Isaac Julien". (in German). 1 February 2022. Retrieved 2 February 2022.

Further reading

Also published in: The Other Cinema, The Cinema of the Other, UNOPress, Napoli.