New York

Isaac Julien, The North Star (Lessons of the Hour), 2019, ink-jet print, 63 × 84".

Isaac Julien, The North Star (Lessons of the Hour), 2019, ink-jet print, 63 × 84".

Isaac Julien

Metro Pictures

“It seems to us next to impossible for white men to take likenesses of black men, without most grossly exaggerating their distinctive features,” Frederick Douglass wrote in 1849. “And the reason is obvious. Artists, like all other white persons, have adopted a theory respecting the distinctive features of Negro physiognomy.” Douglass, an escaped slave turned abolitionist writer and orator, understood all too well how the racist image-repertoire of white America structured its relationship with its black citizens, and the ways in which the literal dehumanization of people of color not only impelled but was also impelled by the dominant culture’s cruel imagination. Recognizing the opportunities presented by photography for reclaiming and restructuring black subjectivity, Douglass was a vocal champion of the newly available medium’s potential, writing and speaking about it at length. He was

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