This online conversation with Celeste-Marie Bernier, Judith Butler and Isaac Julien, explores Frederick Douglass’ legacy and the influence of key historical figures featured in Lessons of the Hour.
While widely acknowledged as an icon of abolitionism, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) is less understood as an early figure in the intersectional pursuit of human rights, a dissonance which informed filmmaker and artist Isaac Julien’s immersive moving-image installation Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass (2019). In this wide-ranging conversation, Julien is joined by the celebrated philosopher and educator Judith Butler and acclaimed Douglass scholar Celeste-Marie Bernier to explore Douglass’ legacy as well as the influential role of figures such as his wife Anna Murray-Douglass, the suffragettes and others important to his life and voice. Butler’s renowned scholarship in the fields of philosophy, ethics and feminist, queer and literary theory guides her moderation of the conversation.
Currently the Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at University of California, Berkeley, Butler’s theories have compelled generations of activists, artists and students to grapple with notions of gender performativity, individualism and power. As professor of United States and Atlantic Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Bernier specializes in the literatures, histories, politics, visual cultures and philosophies of women, men and children living in the African Diaspora. Julien worked closely with Bernier on Lessons of the Hour’s narration to construct “tableaux vivants” that reimagine Douglass’ relationships to a range of key historical figures, including Murray-Douglass, his second wife Helen Pitts and the suffragette Susan B. Anthony.
The West Coast premiere of Lessons of the Hour at McEvoy Foundation for the Arts (October 14, 2020 – April 24, 2021) is joined by an exhibition of Julien’s related photography and selections from the McEvoy Family Collection that further explore questions of identity, justice, history and image-making in the film. New Labor Movements, a resonant original program of film and video shorts curated by Leila Weefur, explores contemporary visions of America and concepts of transnational Blackness. Online conversations with these artists and invited thinkers and scholars take place throughout the run of the exhibition. Admission to the exhibition and conversations is free.
Events and workshops curated around SFPL’s One City One Book selection. One City One Book: San Francisco Reads is a citywide literary event that encourages members of the San Francisco community to read the same book at the same time. For more information, see sfpl.org/onecityonebook.
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