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.

In this online conversation presented in conjunction with McEvoy Arts’ West Coast premiere of Lessons of the Hour and UC Santa Cruz’s Visualizing Abolition event series, historian Robin Kelley and artist and filmmaker 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. Jullien’s immersive ten-screen film installation Lessons of the Hour — Frederick Douglass (2019), explores the life and impact of the visionary abolitionist and statesman and poses urgent questions about the continuity of systems of oppression in contemporary American life. Lessons offers a poetic and contemplative journey into Douglass’ zeitgeist and its relationship to contemporaneity through a montage of images, vignettes, and dramatizations that explore his enduring legacy and cultural influence.


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 (2018); The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (2017); MAC Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2016); MUAC (Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo), Mexico City (2016); the De Pont Museum, Netherlands (2015); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013); the Art Institute of Chicago (2013); Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo (2012); Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2009); Pompidou Centre Paris (2005); and MoCA Miami (2005). He has exhibited at biennials including the 56th International Exhibition of Contemporary Art – La Biennale de Venezia (2015), Johannesburg Biennale (2012), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Shanghai Biennale (2010). 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) for services to the Arts in the Queen’s Birthday 2017 Honors List. 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.

This conversation is co-presented by McEvoy Foundation for the Arts and 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.