Freely inspired by the life of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the commission will open in two stages at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, where the African American visionary lived from 1847 to 1872.

A single-channel projection debuts February 3, followed by a non-linear, multi-screen video installation a month later on March 3.

“There is no artist working today who makes such compelling and powerful statements about global forces shaping history and our world,” says project curator John G. Hanhardt, a world-renowned authority on the moving image.

Through his distinctive form of storytelling that Julien says “demands a montage technique,” the artist draws from paintings, architecture, photography, performance and sound to construct poetic narratives of hybrid
scenes. Spectators become physically and sensorially immersed in the images shot in Washington, D.C., Scotland and London — places that held special meaning for Douglass.

Julien came to prominence in the film world with his 1989 drama-documentary Looking for Langston, gaining a cult following with his exploration of author Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance.

“Lessons of the Hour” derives its name after one of Douglass’ most important speeches, on slavery and human rights. Creating a space for meditation on how past political and cultural themes continue to be relevant is one reason why Julien is one of the most important and influential artists working today.