National Galleries Scotland and Edinburgh Art Festival are delighted to be working together to present the UK and European premiere of Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour. This major new ten-screen film installation by celebrated British artist Isaac Julien, CBE, RA, 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 DC, 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.