Drawing on Julien’s extensive research in the archives of the Barnes Foundation, the film explores the reciprocal impact of Alain Locke’s political philosophy and cultural organizing activities, and Albert E. Barnes’s pioneering art collecting and democratic, inclusive educational enterprise.
Starring actor André Holland (Moonlight and Passing) as Alain Locke, Danny Huston (Succession and Marlowe) as Dr. Barnes, rising star Devon Terrell (Barack Obama in Barry) as sculptor Richmond Barthé, and Sharlene Whyte (Small Axe and Lessons of the Hour) as the Curator, with a special appearance by singer and songwriter Alice Smith, Once Again... (Statues Never Die) explores Locke’s engagement with the Barnes collection, honoring both Locke’s contribution to the arts while inviting critical conversations around the African material culture that influenced the Black cultural movement. The installation spotlights Dr. Barnes’s subsequent writings on the meaning and value of African material culture and its import to the African diaspora, which were reproduced in Harlem Renaissance periodicals including Opportunity.
In the film, Julien revisits themes he approached in his landmark 1989 film Looking for Langston and continues his exploration of the queer subculture of the Harlem Renaissance in his reflection on the relationship between Locke and sculptor Richmond Barthé, for which Barthé’s sculptures were staged at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).
Imagining his installation as a form of what he calls “poetic restitution,” Julien alludes to contemporary restitution debates - examining the display and significance of African material culture in western art museums - specifically as they relate to works looted in the Benin Expedition of 1897, in which British troops destroyed the centuries-old Kingdom of Benin. Once Again … (Statues Never Die) joins contemporary debates around colonialism and the display of African material culture in European museums with recourse to the 1953 film by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, Les statues meurent aussi (Statues Also Die), a groundbreaking work that was banned soon after its debut in France for its anti-colonial sentiment, but which raised important questions about the acquisition and display of African works in European museums. Combining an original script written by Isaac Julien and Martina Klich with recently discovered archival footage from the 1970 film You Hide Me by Nii Kwate Owoo, which drew attention to African material culture stored in the British Museum, Once Again … (Statues Never Die) engages with current restitution debates.
“This project explores Dr. Barnes and Alain Locke’s storied relationship, its mutually formative critical dialogue, and its significant impact on their work as cultural critics, educators, organizers, and activists on behalf of various African American causes,” says Julien.