Isaac Julien Lessons of the Hour 2019

  • MoMA, Floor 2, 2 South The Paul J. Sachs Galleries

The title of this installation refers to the last major speech [Frederick] Douglass delivered before his death in 1895. Douglass appears on the pamphlet cover as an elder statesman, his distinguished image an assertion of his citizenship in the face of anti-Black racism, which included lynchings, voter suppression, and dehumanizing caricatures, as well as other forms of social, political, and economic disenfranchisement. All, he points out, were meant to prevent Black citizens’ full participation in democracy.

Gallery label from Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour, May 19, 2024–September 28, 2024
Additional text

When [Frederick] Douglass gave this speech to an audience of abolitionists as part of an Independence Day commemoration, he had been legally free for almost six years, but the institution of slavery was still in place. The following quote, featured in a scene of Lessons of the Hour, conveys his main argument:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

Gallery label from Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour, May 19, 2024–September 28, 2024
Ten-channel 4K video and 35mm film transferred to high-definition video (color, sound; 28:46 min.) and ten projection screens
Dimensions variable
Acquired through the generosity of the Ford Foundation
Object number
© 2024 Isaac Julien. Commissioned by the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester in partnership with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Media and Performance

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