East End filmmaker awarded ‘Art Icon’ status by Whitechapel Gallery

Isaac Julien, Whitechapel Gallery’s 2024 Art Icon. Photograph: courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

East End-born filmmaker Isaac Julien, whose first work examined the death of a young Black man inside a Hackney police station, has been named as the eleventh recipient of the Whitechapel Gallery’s illustrious Art Icon Award.

The accolade honours an artist who is credited by the gallery’s director, Gilane Tawadros, as having “changed the way audiences view and experience moving images”.

Julien is set to be presented with the award at a gala celebration at the Whitechapel on 18 March.

The filmmaker first made his name with Who Killed Colin Roach?, which he created while still a student.

Roach was 21 years old when he died from a gunshot wound in the lobby of Stoke Newington Police Station in 1983.

His death, which was later ruled a suicide amid claims of a police cover-up, sparked protests in Hackney.

The film, in Julien’s words, was intended to “redirect the gaze of the ruling media” away from protesters and towards the police.

The borough again featured in Julien’s 1991 debut feature film, Young Soul Rebels, which explored late 1970s youth culture in London.

But it was 1989’s Looking for Langston that brought Julien to the attention of critics. The film is a poetic delve into the private life of playwright Langston Hughes, who helped form the Harlem Renaissance, a revival of African American culture, in the 1920s.

Tawadros, who will hand Julien his Art Icon Award, said of the artist: “His ground-breaking, visually compelling film and video works, alongside his elaborate multi-screen installations, have defined new and important territories for artists and filmmakers, and changed the way that audiences view and experience moving image work – both within and outside art spaces.

“His work offers a uniquely seductive yet critical lens to explore and interrogate historical and contemporary experiences and he is rightfully acknowledged to be one of the most influential artists of his generation.

“I couldn’t be more delighted to be presenting him with this year’s award on behalf of Whitechapel Gallery and the 2024 Art Icon committee.”

The ceremony in March will feature a star turn from legendary jazz singer Mica Paris, who performed the title track of Young Soul Rebels.

The Art Icon Award was established in 2014 to celebrate artists who have made a profound contribution to a particular medium, influencing their own and subsequent generations of artists.

Previous recipients include Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread, and Yinka Shonibare.