Image: True North
(London, 1960 - )

True North , 2004

triple screen video installation
118 in. x 472 in. (299.72 cm x 1198.88 cm)
Purchased, by exchange, with funds from Mrs. Frederick W. Gehring, and Knight Purchase Fund for Photographic Media
installation view
installation view
installation view
installed in galleries
Filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien describes 'True North' as a cinematic “re-memorizing” of the story of Matthew Henson (1866-1955), the black American explorer who accompanied Admiral Robert Peary in 1909 on the first expedition to reach the North Pole. Shot in Iceland and northern Sweden, Julien’s vision of the story unites images presented on three screens with a soundtrack that includes narration using Henson’s words, music composed for the film and sacred Inuit chants.

A survey of the sublime properties of the arctic landscape, 'True North' also looks at the history of polar exploration in terms of race and gender. By casting Matthew Henson as a black woman, Julien points to the Inuit men and women who played key roles in the expeditions but were erased from previous histories. While Julien views polar exploration as a story of interdependency between peoples, he evokes the entwined history of Henson and Peary only through the narration, leaving the figure of Peary unseen.

The emotional tone and meditative pace of Henson’s journey through the snow and ice in 'True North' invites contemplation about belonging and being displaced. The combination of images and sounds flash backward and forward in time and space, reflecting the malleable nature of history. Julien crafted True North to allow for individual interpretations of Henson’s journey depending on one’s perspective. After all, as the artist points out, when you get to the North Pole, the compass is constantly changing.
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Online Collection paid for with a grant from
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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