Isaac Julien: Fantôme Afrique

Ruby City will present Isaac Julien: Fantôme Afrique beginning May 11, 2023.

The exhibition will be on view May 11–July 25, 2023, and again September 8, 2023–April 2023. The installation will be closed July 25–September 7 during reinstallation of Ruby City’s permanent collection galleries.

In discussing his three-screen, 18-minute film installation, Julien describes Fantôme Afrique (2005) as “weav[ing] cinematic and architectural references through the rich imagery of urban Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa and, with the Burkina Faso film festival, the center for cinema in Africa. The city center and archival footage from early colonial expeditions and landmark moments in African history punctuates the film.”

Fantôme Afrique references the French colonial powers that forcibly shaped Burkina Faso and the country’s self-determined response to, and bold embrace of film and film production in the aftermath of occupation. The mélange of these forces results in the country’s present-day complex, unique hybridity that occupies an altogether new territory one that is alternatively global and local, urban and rural as well as preindustrial and contemporary. The title of the work alludes to archivist and surrealist writer Michel Leiris’ 1934 book L’Afrique Fantôme. His detailed diary documents the first French state-sponsored anthropological expedition to visit sub-Saharan Africa. Blending anthropological observations and personal accounts, Leiris’ book reveals exotic delusions about Africa and the hypocrisies of colonialism.

Julien is internationally known for his poetic, meditative multi-screen film installations and photographs which reflect his long-term study of film history and production. Through this medium he has often focused on specific places and landscapes to present counter or unknown histories using a non-narrative style with both lyrical and descriptive power. Tackling subjects as specific and broad as black and queer identities, diaspora, migration and the underlying effects of capitalist economic systems, Julien’s works reveal the complexities of contemporary human experience along with the historical forces or events which continue to affect the present. Fantôme Afrique is one of three works in Julien’s series Expeditions which explores globalization and the resultant circulation of people. The first chapter in the trilogy, True North (2004), was installed May 2022-May 2023 and relayed the little-known story of African-American Matthew Henson, the first person to reach the North Pole. The final film in the series, Western Union: Small Boats (2007), was on view at Ruby City in May 2021-May 2022 and explored the treacherous and clandestine journey thousands of African migrants take across the Middle White Sea to Italy in the hopes of hopes of finding safety and achieving financial security. Ruby City and the Linda Pace Foundation hold more than 50 works by Julien, who is one of the most represented artists in the collection.,