Author and Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin—whose work provides insight into the conservative movement, the Republican and Democratic parties, and threats to Western democracies—will give a Presidential Colloquium on “Our Constitutional Inflection Point: Responses to Our Crisis of Democracy” at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, in Sweeney Concert Hall.
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‘Lessons of the Hour’: Isaac Julien Film Invites Learning
Filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien’s work often comments on the present through the lens of the past. His 2019 film, “Lessons of the Hour”—which explores the life and activism of abolitionist Frederick Douglass—is on display in the new media gallery of the Smith College Museum of Art through July 10.
Part of Smith’s Year on Democracies initiative, the film provides ample teaching opportunities across a host of disciplines and classes. “Lessons of the Hour” highlights speeches Douglass gave across England, Ireland and Scotland between 1845 and 1847, as well as his lectures upon returning to the U.S., through the post-Civil War era. It also serves to examine the influence that Douglass—the most-photographed person of the 19th century—had on representation and the emerging media of the time.
“I’ve been interested in Julien’s work for a long time, and really wanted to add this film to our collection,” says Emma Chubb, Charlotte Feng Ford ’83 Curator of Contemporary Art at SCMA. “He is one of the most important artists of our time, and there is so much potential for teaching and engagement with this piece.”
Two SCMA events are currently planned around the film. On April 5 at 12:15 p.m., Julien will give this year’s Miller Lecture, also titled “Lessons of the Hour,” via Zoom. Additionally, in collaboration with the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute, SCMA will host Excavating the Image, Part II, the second of a two-part “deep dive” into “Lessons of the Hour” on Friday and Saturday, April 8 and 9.
While “Lessons of the Hour” has a 10-screen format, Smith’s exhibition is the U.S. premiere of the single-screen version. “In addition to some spatial obstacles with hosting the 10-screen install,” Chubb explains, “this version is more accessible for teaching when not on view in the museum.”
Alexandra Keller, professor of film and media studies and director of the Kahn Institute, says “Lessons of the Hour” is the perfect piece to dissect in Excavating the Image. “We immediately marked this film for use in this program,” she says. “It has implications far beyond the Smith community.”
Julien, currently serving as Distinguished Professor of the Arts at the University of California Santa Cruz, recognizes the pedagogical possibilities of his work. “I felt we should all be aware of Douglass’ historical political relevance for today’s generation and those in the future,” he says. “I hope that presenting ‘Lessons of the Hour’ at Smith will inspire others to find their own ways of using the art for their own means.”
At the crux of the exhibition and its related events is the desire to inspire discourse on today’s sociopolitical landscape by examining common threads in our past. “There’s an unfinished project of freedom in this country,” says Chubb. “We can’t understand where we are right now without understanding where we’ve come from.”
Julien’s lecture will not be recorded; viewers can register for free here. There will be a watch party for on-campus viewers in the Carroll Room of the Campus Center, where lunch will be provided.