Sir Isaac Julien RA, The Leopard (WESTERN UNION: small boats)

The Leopard (WESTERN UNION: small boats), 2007

Sir Isaac Julien RA (b. 1960)

RA Collection: Art

'The Leopard' is a single-screen version of Isaac Julien's five-screen video work WESTERN UNION: small boats, which was shown - in the latter form - in the 2017 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. In his book Riot, Julien writes at length about this pieceincluding a passage which explains the origin of the title of this work, 'The Leopard':

'I come from cinema; it's cinema I'm quoting from and cinema I reappropriate. As much as I work to disentangle myself from genre, cinema remains my home and my reference. So WESTERN UNION: small boats takes place in Italy, and makes allusions to the afterlife of Italian film. Sicilian histories have been mythologized on screen for decades; I wanted to try to have a conversation with that. So a lot of the work is set in the Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi, a key location for Luchino Visconti's film The Leopard (1963). Visconti was an aristocrat who was won over to Marxism- through film, after he met and worked with Jean Renoir- and The Leopard is an extraordinary film. It deals with the psyche of a Sicilian prince whose condition of privilege is ending as Italy starts to unify. Visconti set a very complex ballroom scene in the Palazzo Gangi, a total tour de force of visual composition. But the whole film shows power meditating on its domain, looking at the landscape and trying to come to terms with different bodies suddenly occupying it, doing different things. I used the same spaces in Western Union, but I was talking about another population' [of African migrants to Italy, including Sicily and Lampedusa- both locations used in the film].

Julien's website further explains that WESTERN UNION: small boats is a work where 'individual voyages, journeys and travel are explored locally, in order to allude to the global scenario. It was produced at a time of debate about immigration policies and the relations between the individual and the geopolitical. Julien traces the effects of trauma, not just on people but also on buildings, monuments, architecture and life, by relocating these themes in a poetic manner'. The Leopard (2007) is an edited cinema version of this work which seeks to re-engage with these ongoing issues. Edited into a single screen format, it uses the idiom of classical experimental cinema to communicate through the non-representational and suggestive, rather than relying on the strictly narrative. The work is not about storytelling as such, but about creating an environment in which an accumulation of sensations, through images and sound, can produce a complex, thought-provoking and intriguing piece.

Further reading:

Isaac Julian, Riot, 2013, MoMA, New York

Object details

The Leopard (WESTERN UNION: small boats)
Object type
Moving Image
Copyright owner
Super 16mm film transferred to high definition, colour, 5.1 surround sound, 18'32''

265 mm x 105 mm, box Length: 340 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Diploma Work given by Sir Isaac Julien RA accepted 2018
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