‘Isaac Julien: What freedom is to me’ at Tate Britain is a powerful and poetic, and beautifully designed exhibition that reveals a career as compelling today as it was forty years ago, when the British artist began showing his politically charged films and video art installations.
Tate curators Isabella Maidment and Nathan Ladd worked closely with the artist and his long-term friend the architect David Adjaye to imagine and design this first UK retrospective of Julien.
We enter the exhibition wrapped around in large screens showing Julien’s latest film, ‘Once Again… [Statues Never Die]’ (2022), and from a clearing of sorts are then tasked to choose our own path, directed by sound, colour and scent, as a narrative unfolds based on that decision.
The curators have successfully designed an exhibition experience for the visitor that reflects Julien’s fascination with image, sound, space, movement. Maidment calls them sonic tapestries that draw you through the exhibition as it unfolds.
She notes a passage from ‘Once Again… [Statues Never Die]’ that illustrates the show so poignantly. The line is narrated the character playing Alain Locke — the writer and cultural critic, and philosophical architect of the Harlem Renaissance:
‘As we mature as artists in the mythical diasporic dream space, the culture of infinite possibility is ready to receive us. This is artistic freedom as pure and as unsullied as the falling snow.’
On until August 20 at Tate Britain.
All images: Installation view, ‘Once Again… (Statues Never Die)’ Tate Britain, 2023. © Isaac Julien, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro