Frederick Douglass: Lessons of the Hour (Exhibition by Isaac Julien)

McEvoy Foundation for the Arts is pleased to announce the West Coast debut of Lessons of the Hour, a moving image and photography exhibition by British filmmaker, installation artist, and Distinguished Professor of the Arts at UC Santa Cruz Isaac Julien, CBE RA. 

Lessons of the Hour explores the life of Frederick Douglass, the visionary African American writer, abolitionist, statesman, and freed slave, through a few of his most compelling speeches and moments from his private life. This immersive ten-screen film installation was shot with 35mm film and 4k digital technology at sites in the United States and United Kingdom that hold historical significance. Working closely with the art historian Celeste-Marie Bernier on the film’s narration, Julien constructs “tableaux vivants” that reimagine Douglass’ relationships to the influential women and men in his life.

Three of Douglass’ seminal speeches provide the thematic core of the film. "Lessons of the Hour" (1894), his final delivered speech, addresses lynching, suffrage, and legacies of slavery in the post-Civil War American South. "Lecture on Pictures" (1861), in which Douglass famously declared that “rightly viewed, the whole soul of man is a sort of picture gallery,” draws a connection between advances in photography and equality. "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" (1852), Douglass’ most well-known speech, offers a pointed critique of American democracy advanced by the condition of slavery. Employing the nonlinear narrative devices for which he is acclaimed, Julien crafts a multi-layered meditation on the historicity and contemporaneity of Douglass’ writings.

The film installation is accompanied by Julien’s tintype portraits and mise en scènes photographs of the film’s subjects that explore a shared interest in photography between Douglass and Julien, as well as a complementary grouping of works from the McEvoy Family Collection, selected by Julien and Nash.  Isaac Julien’s pioneering artistic practice incorporates the moving image, photography, and installation to create open-ended narratives that invite spectators to actively interpret the work through a physical and sensorial immersion. 

McEvoy Arts’ presentation of Lessons is developed in collaboration with the Isaac Julien Lab at UC Santa Cruz.

Lessons of the Hour was commissioned by the Memorial Art Gallery with the partnership of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Works by Isaac Julien appear courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; Metro Pictures, New York; Victoria Miro, London/Venice.

FREE and open to the public
Gallery Hours and Information at

Visiting McEvoy Foundation for the Arts: To ensure the health and safety of its visitors and staff during the coronavirus pandemic, all persons 12 years and older are required to wear face coverings at all times when in McEvoy Arts and Minnesota Street Project facilities, maintain a minimum of 6 feet of physical distance from others, and refrain from visiting if they are experiencing illness or symptoms of COVID-19 or have come in recent contact with someone suspected or confirmed of contracting the virus.

image credit: Isaac Julien, Lessons of the Hour, 2019 (installation view, detail), ten-screen installation, 35mm film and 4k digital, color, 7.1 surround sound. 28” 46”. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

Saturday, March 13

McEvoy Foundation for the Arts 1150 25th Street, Building B, San Francisco, CA 94107

Event Type


Invited Audience

Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Students, Prospective Students, General Public, Graduate Students


Arts & Culture, Diversity & Inclusion



FREE and open to the public

Arts Division


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