The Guardian

Isaac Julien on Frederick Douglass: 'It's an extraordinary story'

The British artist talks about his series of tableaux vivants focused on the trailblazing abolitionist who is more relevant than ever
Isaac Julien – JP Ball Studio 1867 Douglass (Lessons of The Hour). Photograph: Courtesy of the artist

Standing in the heart of Highland Park in Rochester, New York, the British artist and film-maker Isaac Julien found himself looking up at the Frederick Douglass monument – the first statue in the country to memorialize an African American. It led to an epiphany.

“I thought, my God, this man, who was born in 1818, is extraordinary,” said Julien. “A lightbulb went off.”

Douglass, the trailblazing 19th-century abolitionist, orator and activist who escaped from slavery in Maryland, is the focus of Julien’s latest exhibition at, which runs until 13 April. The artwork was commissioned and acquired by the in Rochester, where it will concurrently be on view until 12 May.

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