Isaac Julien Receives Prestigious Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon Award

Isaac Julien Portrait 2017 - Photo Thierry Bal

London’s Whitechapel Gallery has announced that visionary filmmaker and artist Isaac Julien KBE RA will be honoured with the prestigious Art Icon Award, marking the eleventh recipient of this recognition. 

The award, designed to celebrate artists whose contributions have profoundly influenced a generation, will be presented to Julien at a gala celebration hosted by Whitechapel Gallery Director Gilane Tawadros on March 18, 2024.

Isaac Julien, born in London in 1960, is one of our time’s most influential visual artists. Renowned for his impressionistic and sensual films and his ambitious video installations, Julien’s work traverses various artistic disciplines, seamlessly blending film, dance, photography, music, theatre, and sculpture. His creations offer multi-layered visual narratives that delve into themes of desire, history, culture, and the movement of people across continents, times, and spaces.

Julien first gained critical acclaim for his 1989 film “Looking for Langston,” a poetic exploration of the private world of Langston Hughes, the iconic author, poet, and playwright central to the Harlem Renaissance. His debut feature film, “Young Soul Rebels” (1991), earned the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2022, Julien received a knighthood and the prestigious Goslar Kaiserring Award. His recent work, “Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die)” (2022), premiered at Tate Britain as part of his major retrospective in 2023.

The theme of migration and decolonization takes centre stage in this year’s leading exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, “Foreigners Everywhere.” The show explores the experiences of living on the margins as an outsider or an émigré, reflecting on the challenges and complexities of identity, nationality, race, gender, sexuality, wealth, and freedom.

Commenting on the announcement, Whitechapel Gallery Director Gilane Tawadros expressed her admiration for Julien’s groundbreaking work, highlighting its transformative impact on both artists and audiences. She praised Julien’s ability to offer a critical yet seductive lens through which to examine historical and contemporary experiences, cementing his status as one of the most influential artists of his generation.

The gala celebration honouring Isaac Julien will feature an exceptional performance by the legendary Soul, R&B, and Jazz singer Mica Paris MBE, known for her rendition of the title track from Julien’s award-winning film “Young Soul Rebels.” Additionally, Phillips Auction House will host an online auction of artworks donated by leading contemporary artists, with proceeds supporting Whitechapel Gallery’s Education and Public Programmes.

Isaac Julien’s illustrious career spans over four decades, with his work exhibited at prestigious venues worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. His upcoming exhibitions include presentations at the Whitney Biennial in New York and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The Art Icon Award committee for 2024 includes esteemed individuals from the arts and cultural sectors, recognizing the profound impact of Isaac Julien’s contributions to contemporary art and cinema.

As the Art Icon Award recipient, Isaac Julien continues to push boundaries and challenge conventions, leaving an indelible mark on the art world and inspiring future generations of artists and filmmakers.

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