Isaac Julien’s True North at Ruby City

July 19, 2022

As part of Isaac Julien's exhibition True North on view until 29th of January 2023, Ruby City virtually hosted Isaac Julien in conversation with its director Elyse Gonzales. 

True North is loosely based on the experiences of Matthew Henson (1866–1955), a Black explorer who assisted Robert Peary on his 1909 expedition to locate the northernmost point on the globe, known as true north. Henson reached true north first, followed by Peary and four Inuit assistants. Upon their return, however, Peary claimed the honor for himself and was hailed a hero. Henson received relatively little public acknowledgement of his accomplishment or pivotal contributions to the success of the mission, living in obscurity until the end of his life.

Julien’s newly conserved multiscreen work upends the classic wilderness adventure that traditionally features a white male protagonist overcoming hardship to reach acclaim. Instead, True North presents a more expansive, meditative vision of this narrative in which Henson is portrayed as a Black female explorer partly inspired by Lisa Bloom’s book Gender on Ice. Although made in early 2004, True North’s visual representations of climate change, the cracking and melting of ice and utilisation of suspense with its haunting sound-score, evokes the ecological beginnings of what would come to be known as ‘Polar aesthetics’ within the discourses of artists working towards challenging climate change.  


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