by Rachel Vancelette for Urban Mindz
Critically acclaimed member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, 46-year-old British actor Ray Fearon, of stage, theater and film has joined forces with renowned artist/filmmaker, 59-year-old Isaac Julien, to create a stunning film installation work titled “Reflection on Place.” The world premiere film brings Frederick Douglass to life in vignettes placed in replicas of the rooms where this larger than life escaped slave, abolitionist, statesman and orator gave his powerful speeches.
"The work is about looking at Frederick Douglass through the present to the past and then back again,” says John G. Hanhardt, curator of the work. Frederick Douglass was one of the most photographed and highly profiled persons of his time so the challenge for Fearon and Julien was to recreate him as a man in both private and public moments during his extraordinary life. The installation can be viewed currently at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY and will be screened at Miami Art Basel this December.
Douglass, (1818 -1895) was an American social reformer whose importance in history simply cannot be underestimated as he is given credit for heavily influencing an end to slavery simply by his powerful presence, remarkable speeches, photographs and his intellectual persuasive abilities. His oratorical power has made him almost mythological in stature and he intuitively understood how photography could sway the masses and shift deeply entrenched beliefs and prejudices. After a daring escape from slave masters in Maryland, Douglas led the Abolitionists’ movement in New York and Massachusetts, and began writing his piercing antislavery compositions. Glenn Adamson of Art in America wrote, "If there were justice in the United States, Frederick Douglass's face would be on the twenty-dollar bill, not Andrew Jackson’s. Douglass’s speeches would be as well known as the Gettysburg Address."
Fearon, with his well-known ability to morph and shapeshift into almost any character, gives another mesmerizing performance, tantalizingly reincarnating Douglass for audiences. Filmmaker Julien’s artistic portrayal of Frederick Douglass once again presents viewers with a bold piece fulfilling Isaac’s stated aim which Victoria Miro Gallery says is to “break down the barriers that exist between different artistic disciplines…uniting them to construct a powerfully visual narrative.”
Cleverly, viewing audiences are stretched and moved back and forth through time, past to present and then a return, and we are immersed in numerous images from the tranquility of woods and moors to sitting alone in his beloved home in Scotland. Soon viewers are intermittently drawn into the sounds of trains, clocks and even the symbolic cracking sound of terrifying whips intermixed with a visual of present-day Baltimore and its iconic Domino Sugar refinery. Vividly shot with digital tech and 35mm on 10 screens both in Baltimore and Scotland, the bulk of the piece underscores the peace and quiet of stillness, but is contrasted and overlaid with the still present racial strife of today which echoes the anxiety of past deep anguish and struggles. Allegory, metaphor, mirror?
Isaac Julien’s numerous endeavors and artistic achievements include:
The1989 drama-documentary Looking for Langston, exploring the Harlem Renaissance. The Semaine de la Critique prize for best film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001, and in 2003 he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Kunstfilm Biennale in Cologne. His films often explore the difficulties of the black political experience. Julien was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2017 for services to the arts and continues to lecture and teach both in England and the US.
Actor Raymond Fearon’s prolific career cuts across all mediums and encompasses stage, theater film and TV. Some of his many credits include:
His stage work - Liverpool's Everyman Theatre; Manchester Contact Theatre; Manchester Royal Exchange; Oxford Playhouse; Barn Theatre, Kent; The Almeida; The Crucible, Sheffield; The Donmar Warehouse; The Royal Shakespeare Theatres in Stratford and the National Theatre.). He starred in Othello in Liverpool at the age of 24, becoming the first black actor to play Othello on the Royal Shakespeare Company main stages. Film work includes Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Macbeth (2013). His television work - Snatch (2017), Origin (2018), Da Vinci's Demons (2013), Midsomer Murders (1997), Suspects(2014), Moving On (2009), Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators: The Play's the Thing (2019), and His Dark Materials (2019)