Through extensive use of Douglass’ timely words, Julien gives expression to the zeitgeist of Douglass’ era, his legacy, and the ways in which his story may be viewed today. Julien’s vision is informed by some of Douglass’ most important speeches, such as Lessons of the Hour, What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?, and Lecture on Pictures, the latter being a text that connects picture-making and photography to Douglass’ vision of how technology can influence human relations.
In the installation, Douglass interacts with other cultural icons of his time, including his first wife Anna Murray-Douglass; the two English Quakers, Anna and Ellen Richardson, who helped Douglass secure his freedom and return to the U.S.; Susan B. Anthony, the suffragist and Douglass’ long-time friend; Ottilie Assing, a feminist friend and lover; and Ida B. Wells, the anti-lynching activist. Julien chose these individuals as representatives of ideals of equality and as pioneers in the history of civil rights.
The present film installation is a new, five-channel iteration of Julien’s project specially commissioned by SCAD. It was originally commissioned by the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester with the partnership of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and with generous support from Mark Falcone and Ellen Bruss, the Zell Family, Ford Foundation, VIA Art Fund, Lori Van Dusen, and Deborah Ronnen and Sherman Levey.