British artist Isaac Julien is world renowned for his innovative film installations, but most UCSB students probably know him from lectures in law & society, sociology, political science and any other number of social science classes in which his award-winning documentary “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask” about the titular theorist have been screened. Julien won the Pratt and Whitney Canada Grand Prize for that film, and the Semaine de la Critique prize at Cannes for “Young Soul Rebels” in 1991, and he was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001 for “The Long Road to Mazatlan” and “Vagabondia.” His work has been exhibited at the Tate, the Centre Pompidou, the Guggenheim Museum and the Hirshorn Museum, and he is currently working on a film about visual artist Derek Jarman with the recent Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress, Tilda Swinton.
According to his official Web site, Julien was born in 1960 in London, and he graduated from St. Martin’s School of Art in 1984 after studying painting and fine art film. Over the course of his career, Julien has been responsible for an incredibly diverse array of films about an equally broad spectrum of subjects, although he always seems to come back to issues of race and examinations of popular culture. His documentary “BadAsssss Cinema” examines the exploitation films of the early 1970s, and features interviews with the likes of Pam Grier, Melvin Van Peebles, Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson. “The Darker Side of Black” deals with the dominance of “gangsta chic, violence and nihilism, the hard edge of rap and reggae,” in contemporary culture, according to Julien’s Web site.
Suffice it to say, Julien’s oeuvre is impressive, and the opportunity to see such a talented artist’s work within the confines of our own campus is quite extraordinary. But, that’s exactly the opportunity the University Art Museum is providing, as it exhibits Julien’s 2005 work “Fantome Afrique” until May 11.
According to the UAM Web site, “In ‘Fantôme Afrique,’ Julien paints a picture of West Africa as a place where a multitude of traditions intersect-where European, Arabic and Black African civilizations meet and cross with contemporary, transnational culture.”
The film centers on two characters – famous dancer and choreographer Stephen Galloway of Ballet Frankfurt and Vanessa Myrie, a frequent figure in Julien’s films. As the pair pass through the diverse landscapes of Ouagadougou, West Africa, they create an intricately choreographed composition illustrating the complexities of countries where colonization and decolonization, globalization and localization intersect to create brave new worlds “where the ghosts of history linger amid the realities of the present,” as the UAM Web site states.
Check it out at the University Art Museum, which is open Wednesday through Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m.