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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

Isaac Julien “What freedom is to me” at Tate Britain, London

"His works tell important stories, prioritising aesthetics, poetry, movement and music as modes of communication." (from the exhibition booklet)


There, right there. The 'prioritisation of aesthetics' is so absolute and domineering, overwhelming even, that I found myself unable to remember what the message was. Social justice, the black queer experience? Sure, but Julien's videos are so intoxicatingly beautiful and polished that I just sat there, jaw dropped and mind befuddled.


His early film "Looking for Langston" (1989) tells the story of the iconic Harlem Renaissance founder through a lyrical, almost meditative lense. The 42' long video alternates Julien's work with original footage, and I sometimes wished I was watching a documentary instead.


Anyway, I'm being overly critical, although in fairness you do need both plenty of time and patience to sit through the installations, for which remarkably scarce seating has been provided.


Thinking of Langston Hughes, I was reminded of his poem Dreams, written in 1923. So concise, so poignant, so relevant.




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