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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced this week the multi-screen film installation Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Moment – Frederick Douglasson view at the Richmond museum from December 10, 2022 to July 9, 2023. The installation is organized by Valerie Cassel Oliver, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at VMFA Sydney and Frances Lewis Family.

“The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is pleased to present this fascinating work on Frederick Douglass, one of the most significant figures in American history,” said Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO of VMFA. “Through his advocacy of abolition and women’s suffrage, he urged the nation to make important reforms and embrace human rights, regardless of race or gender.”

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will present the film as an immersive ten-screen experience as envisioned by its creator, internationally renowned London-born artist and filmmaker Sir Isaac Julien. A poetic meditation on the great abolitionist, the work presents a series of vignettes of Douglass’s life before and during his trip to the UK in 1841. Using stunning sights and sounds, Julien brings the historical figure to life and collapses time and space to unite history with the persistent concerns of our days.

“We are delighted to have Lessons of the Moment – Frederick Douglass in the VMFA collection,” said Cassel Oliver. “Frederick Douglass’s powerful sentences and Isaac Julien’s innovative and captivating cinematography will help visitors better understand Douglass’s legacy and its relevance to our contemporary experience.”

Douglass is portrayed by Shakespearean actor Ray Fearon in a series of fragmented scenes that weave together spoken word, photography and contemporary imagery to make the historical figure’s relevance and resonance undeniable today. Appearing on multiple screens where images converge as a whole and then fragment into a montage, the 25-minute installation can be viewed repeatedly, inviting visitors to sit in the meditative space for a non-linear visual experience that makes each encounter with the work is unique. .

The installation also includes three metal type portraits, a collaboration between Julien and photographer Rob Ball, of the film’s subjects, Frederick Douglass, his wife Anna Murray Douglass, and prominent African-American photographer JP Ball. Douglass was aware that words and images had powerful meaning. He used the media, specifically photography, to counter misperceptions of blacks in 19th century America. Through a lifelong collaboration with Ball, Douglass had himself photographed, portraying the black body as noble and beautiful, and became the most photographed individual of the century.

The world premiere of the rare ten-screen cinematic installation of Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Moment – Frederick Douglass took place in 2019, at the University of Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, which commissioned the film and partnered with VMFA to acquire the work for the permanent collections of both museums.

For more information on Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Moment – Frederick Douglass and exhibit-related programs, visit www.VMFA.museum.

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