Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 7, Issue 1
fall 2016
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

James Robert Brudner '83 Memorial Prize and Lecture: Isaac Julien


In his book Welcome to the Jungle, Yale professor Kobena Mercer praises artist and fellow scholar Isaac Julien’s “use of experiences of marginality to uncover the complexity of lived relations in the spaces between race, class, and gender”.  In his 1989 film Looking for Langston, Julien reexamines and reimagines the life of Langston Hughes to illuminate the relationships between viewership, consumption, and power in Black queer life. Julien came to New Haven to accept the 2016 James Robert Brudner ’83 Memorial Prize. In his conversation with Kobena Mercer, the audience witnessed an intimate reflection on Julien’s work of reopening closeted spaces of Black cultural history.  After an introduction by George Chauncey, who seemed thrilled for many of his students and the greater Yale community to have the opportunity to engage with Julien’s work, Julien and Mercer wasted no time before taking an intense look back at Julien’s extensive portfolio.  The conversation between Mercer and Julien was strikingly authentic and fluid and gave the impression that they have engaged in the discussion many times before, though perhaps without a couple hundred listeners hanging on every word.  Bouncing around throughout Julien’s career which has spanned multiple decades, mediums, and genres, the men discussed a variety of moments in the Black and/or queer cultural histories. Mercer probed Julien to expound upon the driving forces which have led him to study cultural margins throughout his career.  Julien, who would carry on the conversation in New York City the following night, spoke extensively about the necessity of establishing new historical and cultural understandings crafted from a marginalized lens such as his 1988 film This Is Not an AIDS Advertisement in order to challenge dominant narratives.  At the reception following the talk, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the concentration of renowned WGSS and AFAM scholars discussing the ideas and works we engage with in our seminar rooms. For myself and, hopefully, many other young academics and artists, the event was truly inspiring and an indication of the wonderful opportunities WGSS and Yale provide to us.

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