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Looking for Langston

Although his resume includes writing and directing credits for the award-winning coming-of-age drama Young Soul Rebels (1991) and the blaxploitation documentary BaadAsssss Cinema (2002), British filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien is arguably better known for conceptual films presented on multiple screens simultaneously. Seemingly dissected and left for viewers to reassemble with their own eyes, these immersive projects have involved journeys to remote ice caves in Iceland, juxtapositions of Arctic and African landscapes, travels through China and curious collaborations with the likes of Tilda Swinton and James Franco. A co-founder of the Sankofa Film and Video Collective (an organization “dedicated to developing an independent black film culture in the areas of production, exhibition and audience”), Julien made one of his earliest waves with Looking for Langston — a 1989 film billed as “a lyrical exploration — and recreation — of the private world of poet, social activist, novelist, playwright and columnist Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and his fellow black artists and writers who formed the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s.” In essence a non-linear homage that presents Hughes as a metaphor for the black gay experience, the film has earned cult status and is taught extensively in universities as part of African-American and queer studies programs. Appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2017, Julien was a favorite of late local artist and philanthropist Linda Pace, who acquired more than 50 of his works during her lifetime. In celebration of Looking for Langston’s 30th anniversary, the Linda Pace Foundation’s gallery Studio at Ruby City showcases the 45-minute film as the anchor of a new exhibition of two recently acquired photographs Julien shot during production — Film-Noir Angels and Masquerade No. 3.

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