Isaac Julien

British, born 1960


© Isaac Julien

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WESTERN UNION: Small Boats, 2007

Artwork Details


three-screen projection, 35mm film, color, 5.1 SR sound, transferred to DVD/HD




running time: 18 minutes, 22 seconds

Collection Buffalo AKG Art Museum


Gift of Mrs. George A. Forman, by exchange and Charles Clifton Fund, by exchange, 2009

Accession ID


Isaac Julien's multiscreen and immersive cinematic installations explore ideas related to identity, history, race, memory, and the passage of time. He began his practice in the 1980s as an independent filmmaker; in the early 1990s he migrated from the cinema into museum and gallery spaces. Julien's method of storytelling is fragmented. Rather than following a linear progression, images, sound, and movement slowly accumulate, serving as metaphors for the oscillating, uncertain state of history. 

WESTERN UNION: Small Boats is the third and final film in the trilogy "Cast No Shadow," a series that ruminates on migration and the landscape. The film, overlaid with a soundtrack of ambient noises and melodic intoning, is a lyrical and visceral meditation of African migration histories and the individuals who attempt to escape each year from North Africa, making the one-hundred-mile journey across the Mediterranean Sea to the southern coast of Sicily. They begin in large vessels but are eventually transferred into smaller, overcrowded fishing boats, in which they may find rescue but often, tragically, sink to their deaths. This hauntingly beautiful film serves as a poetic rumination on the plight of humanity, life's uncertainties, and the effects of trauma on people, buildings, and monuments.