Isaac Julien’s Black Atlantic

Open Lecture

Paul Gilroy’s 1993 Black Atlantic proposed a highly influential study of modernity as a form of double consciousness that has prompted a reconsideration of black art and literature as an essential facet of European modernism.

The shifting locations of Harlem/Manhattan in the 1920s and Hackney, London in 1989 in Isaac Julien’s ‘Looking for Langston’ is an important example of the transatlantic crossings and recrossings that constitute modernity’s double consciousness.

Gilroy’s analysis is based on a study of the numerous novels written by freed slaves and anti-slavery abolitionists that privileges the ship as a site of passage of the black diaspora. This allows him to convey a sense of locational identity in which the movement of ideas, styles and artistic and political influences is a prominent factor in the constitution of European and western modernity.

The aim of this lecture is to set out an analysis of ‘Looking for Langston’ as an example of locational identity that shuttles between different centres of the avant-garde and modernism that bring together the Surrealist space of fantasy with Harlem and Hackney. This reading draws on the invitation presented in Gilroy’s text to think of Julien’s art through the lens of location/space rather than the emphasis on the black body that has dominated the literature.

Related People

  • Amna Malik

    Guest Speaker - 2005

    Amna Malik is Lecturer in History and Theory of Contemporary Art at the Slade School of Art, UCL. Her doctoral research was on surrealism and psychoanalysis, since then she has extended her interests to issues of diaspora based art practices in Europe and the USA, writing on a number of artists including Shirin Neshat, Steve McQueen and Lorna Simpson.
    Find out more about Amna Malik