How Filmmaker Isaac Julien Introduced the Late Alain Locke, the First African-American Rhodes Scholar, Again to Life

Isaac Julien has a historical past of working with the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance. So it is sensible that his newest fee, for Philadelphia’s Barnes Basis, circled again on author, thinker, and “father” of the Harlem Renaissance Alain Locke.

Locke and Albert Barnes had a historical past. The collector was one of many first in the US to gather and present African Artwork, amassing a group that Locke, the primary African-American Rhodes Scholar, visited and photographed. However their relationship soured: that they had clashing interpretations of African artwork, and Barnes accused Locke of stealing his concepts.

As soon as Once more… (Statues By no means Die) (2022), Julien’s five-channel movie about Locke, is put in amongst objects from Barnes’s assortment of African sculpture and works by Richmond Barthé and Matthew Angelo Harrison. The work takes many positions, utilizing texts by Bell Hooks alongside writings, carried out by actors, by Barnes and Locke.

Julien additionally reveals a black feminine curator strolling by the Pitt Rivers museum at the moment and an imagined interplay between Locke and artist Richmond Barthé. Shot towards the backdrop of the gathering, this stunning movie takes us on a journey as nuanced and diverse because the debates it touches upon.

On the event of the present, we spoke with Julien concerning the work, the way it connect with outdated and new debates, and the artist’s ideas on restitution.

Isaac Julien: As soon as Once more … (Statues By no means Die), (2022) The Barnes Basis, set up view. Picture courtesy Isaac Julien and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. Photograph by Henrik Kam.

You may have a historical past of working with the Harlem Renaissance. What about it speaks to you?

Effectively, you possibly can say this work is sort of like a prequel to In search of Langston (1989), which, in fact, was a movie very a lot wanting on the Harlem Renaissance. I look again to that interval—the late ’80s—as a result of that was once I first met artists like Glenn Ligon and curators like Thelma Golden, artwork critics like Kenny Jones and Dawoud Bey, the photographer. There was an actual synergy happening.

Paul Gilroy had simply written The Black Atlantic or was about to complete it, however I had been in a position to learn a few of his early chapters, which was just about an entrance to my conceptual desirous about Black artwork actions. I wasn’t taught about Black Modernism in its American variants, with actions just like the Harlem Renaissance, once I was at artwork college. These had been absences in my artwork historical past classes at St. Martin’s Faculty of Artwork. But additionally, there was the query of themes round sexuality and want, which have been additionally very centrally positioned within the Harlem Renaissance.

In search of Langston was additionally made in the course of the AIDS disaster. In order that’s a sort of echo, when it comes to making As soon as Once more… (Statues By no means Die) (2022) in the course of the COVID disaster, in the course of one other pandemic and desirous about questions of mortality.

Do you assume these concepts have turn out to be a part of wider pondering?

These debates are seen as new at the moment, however they’re truly not new. They’ve simply been articulated individually by completely different generations.

That’s one of many the explanation why in As soon as Once more… (Statues By no means Die) there’s this situation the place we now have younger African artists or college students analyzing African sculptures. That’s taken from a movie that was made in 1970 referred to as You Cover Me by Nii Kwate Owoo. It was made 50 years in the past, and is all about questions of restitution, which we’re debating at the moment.

Isaac Julien: As soon as Once more … (Statues By no means Die), (2022) The Barnes Basis, set up view. Picture courtesy Isaac Julien and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. Photograph by Henrik Kam.

What made you wish to make a movie particularly about Alain Locke?

Once I bought the fee, I believed the factor about Barnes is that he has an omnipresence. There’s a approach by which his fastened gaze, or the best way that he needs to regulate how folks take a look at works, is one thing Locke was unpicking. I noticed Locke’s viewpoint as essential, and it might additionally connect with earlier explorations of Locke in In search of Langston. I feel the piece of labor is, in a approach, using the fee to consider Locke as somebody who might be turned to.

Along with making this, I might take a look at the gathering not from Barnes’s view, however extra from Locke’s viewpoint. However then, in fact, growing the work, I do notice that each these factors of views are in a approach from the West, and that’s the place I started to develop the Black curator’s voice within the piece, as a result of I felt we wanted to have somebody who had a very completely different relationship to these objects.

Isaac Julien: As soon as Once more … (Statues By no means Die), (2022) The Barnes Basis, set up view. Picture courtesy Isaac Julien and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. Photograph by Henrik Kam.

Why do you assume engagement with the Harlem Renaissance and the Black intellectuals of that point is so standard for the time being?

Folks have framed it as a paradise of decolonial pondering, and I’m not fairly certain what meaning. So I’m a bit hesitant to make use of it when it comes to my very own work. However I feel perhaps that’s as a result of I used to be concerned in [that] debate. For instance, I made a movie on Frantz Fanon referred to as Black Pores and skin, White Masks within the mid ’90s with my companion Mark Nash. It’s a debate, which I don’t see as unfinished, between the post-colonial and the decolonial. I feel I can see generationally how one needs them to mark a selected second. Nevertheless it feels that we’re nonetheless within the throes of the unfinished enterprise of those moments and conversations, which represent a sort of reckoning. We’ve seen numerous types of existential crises and political upheavals, cultural debates and controversies that may all change round these completely different questions round nationalism, race, and tradition. It’s a contentious time.

Isaac Julien: As soon as Once more … (Statues By no means Die), (2022) The Barnes Basis, set up view. Picture courtesy Isaac Julien and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. Photograph by Henrik Kam.

What do you are feeling when Barnes’s assortment of African artwork?

I see a lot of issues. I feel it’s a tremendous assortment, an astonishing assortment. Clearly, I can see the sort of kleptomania Barnes was concerned in. I feel Barnes, ultimately, wished to amass an announcement. He got here from a working-class background, was an outsider to Philadelphia white bourgeois society, and left the bulk management of the inspiration’s board to a Black school, Lincoln College. All this stuff have now manifested over time as one thing very controversial.

It’s nice to have the ability to have a few of the African works displayed within the precise gallery, and to have this sort of seance between the objects and sculptures. There’s a sort of dialectic that takes place and I feel it’d be fascinating someday if there might be the chance for the works to be moved, and the show to be altered. I feel the creators within the Barnes Museum must be free to make interpretations of that assortment.

Isaac Julien: As soon as Once more … (Statues By no means Die), (2022) The Barnes Basis, set up view. Picture courtesy Isaac Julien and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. Photograph by Henrik Kam.

What’s your view on energetic collections of historic African artwork and artifacts at the moment?

These debates have been happening for a very long time. The one factor new is the distinction in contexts. You may have the beginnings of the repatriation of objects taken beneath violent circumstances, and I feel that’s good. Finally, that should occur.

Correction, 8/19/22: An earlier iteration of this text and its headline prompt that Alain Locke was the curator of Albert Barnes’s assortment. This isn’t the case. The article additionally erroneously acknowledged {that a} Black character in Julien’s movie visits the Barnes Basis. In truth, it’s the Pitt Rivers museum. We apologize for the errors.

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