Isaac Julien. Photo: Jang Dukwha. Courtesy the artist Robin D.G. Kelley. Photo: Madelene Cronjé

Isaac Julien. Photo: Jang Dukwha. Courtesy the artist; Robin D.G. Kelley. Photo: Madelene Cronjé

Isaac Julien. Photo: Jang Dukwha. Courtesy the artist

Online Event

Abolition Then and Now: Robin D. G. Kelley and Isaac Julien in Conversation

Artist Isaac Julien and historian Robin D.G. Kelley appear in conversation as part of UC Santa Cruz’s ‘Visualizing Abolition’ event series.

Historian Robin Kelley and artist Isaac Julien discuss the anti-slavery movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and current abolitionist uprisings against racist police brutality and the prison industrial complex. The conversation is informed by Lessons of the Hour, Julien’s immersive, ten-screen film installation that offers a contemplative, poetic journey into the zeitgeist of Frederick Douglass.


Robin D. G. Kelley is a Professor in the Department of African American Studies at UCLA and Distinguished Professor of History & Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in United States History. His research has explored the history of social movements in the U.S., the African Diaspora, and Africa; black intellectuals; music; visual culture; contemporary urban studies; historiography and historical theory; poverty studies and ethnography; colonialism/imperialism; organized labor; constructions of race; Surrealism, Marxism, and nationalism. His essays have appeared in professional journals as well as general publications, including the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, Black Music Research Journal, African Studies Review, The New York Times (Arts and Leisure), The New York Times Magazine, The Crisis, The Nation, The Voice Literary Supplement, Utne Reader, New Labor Forum, and Counterpunch.

Isaac Julien, CBE RA (b. 1960) is an artist, filmmaker, and educator whose multi-screen film installations and photographs incorporate different artistic disciplines to create a poetic and unique visual language. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark; The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; MAC Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the De Pont Museum, Netherlands; Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; Pompidou Centre Paris; and MoCA Miami. He has exhibited at the La Biennale de Venezia, Johannesburg Biennale, Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, and Shanghai Biennale. Julien is the recipient of The Royal Academy of Arts Charles Wollaston Award 2017 and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2017. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of the Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he is developing the Isaac Julien Lab. He lives and works in London and Santa Cruz.


The Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS) is an interdisciplinary exhibition and event forum in the Arts Division of the University of California, Santa Cruz. The IAS’s mission is to harness the creative power of the arts and the sciences to explore big questions and critical issues of our time. The IAS offers a range of public programs, sponsors residencies, and curates and organizes an ambitious exhibition program. IAS exhibitions, public events, student programs, and academic collaborations bring the arts together with the sciences, social sciences, and humanities in a wide-ranging, dynamic, interdisciplinary program. The IAS engages audiences on and off campus, broadening the impact of UC Santa Cruz scholarship, teaching, and public service.

The West Coast premiere of Lessons of the Hour includes an exhibition of Julien’s related photography and selections from the McEvoy Family Collection that further explore questions of identity, justice, history, and image-making in the film installation. New Labor Movementsa resonant original program of film and video shorts curated by Leila Weefur, explores contemporary visions of America and concepts of transnational Blackness. A series of online conversations with these artists and invited thinkers and scholars take place throughout the run of the exhibition. The project is produced in part with the partnership of the Isaac Julien Lab at UC Santa Cruz. Led by Julien and his collaborator, Mark Nash, the Lab offers an intensive research-based graduate program that emphasizes partnership and inter-disciplinary collaboration with contemporary artists, curators, and institutions across the globe.

This conversation is co-presented with the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Visualizing Abolition is organized by UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Arts and Sciences in collaboration with San José Museum of Art and University Relations Special Events. The exhibition Barring Freedom and Visualizing Abolition has been generously funded by the Nion McEvoy Family Trust, Future Justice Fund, Wanda Kownacki, Peter Coha, James L. Gunderson, Rowland and Pat Rebele, Porter College, UCSC Foundation, and annual donors to the Institute of the Arts and Sciences. Additional support provided by the UC Santa Cruz Arts Division.