Still from Arthur Jafa’s “Love is the Message, The Message is Death” (2016)


A MEDLEY OF HISTORIC and contemporary footage, Arthur Jafa‘s “Love is the Message, The Message is Death” (2016) is an ode to the Black experience. The video installation is a rapid-pace montage of poignant images, both celebratory and heart-wrenching. Kanye West’s gospel-inspired “Ultralight Beam” serves as the video’s soundtrack. The song features Chance the Rapper, The Dream, and Kelly Price, and is produced by Swizz Beatz.

An artist and filmmaker, Jafa has a living archive of still and moving images that served as the chief source for “Love is the Message.” He was trying to “put things in an affective proximity to one another” and “create a new harmonic.” He has said the initial compilation took a couple hours and then he spent about three or four weeks editing it.

“…at a certain point I had a set of images that resonated in response to one another,” Jafa told Antwaun Sargent in a conversation published in Interview magazine. “And like a strand of pearls, I just laid them out. Then I watched it and said, ‘Oh, this is kind of interesting,’ and made a few adjustments.”

Running more than 7 minutes, the video captures a spectrum of Black culture, explores the complexity of race in America, and speaks to the times. The footage spans civil rights, current events, sports, and music (jazz, gospel, hip hop). We see giants of protest who fought for progress and change juxtaposed with a Klan gathering, multiple scenes of police brutality, and a Beyoncé performance.

For the first time, Arthur Jafa has authorized the presentation of “Love is the Message” beyond a museum or gallery space.

For 48 hours, from Friday, June 26 at 2 p.m. EDT, to Sunday, June 28 at 2 p.m. EDT, a consortium of museums and private collections in the United States and Europe is simultaneously live streaming “Love is the Message.” The Studio Museum in Harlem, High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Dallas Museum of Art in Texas, and the Tate in London, are among the institutions making the video available on their websites.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and American Art Museum, both located in Washington, D.C., jointly acquired the work in 2018. The two Smithsonian museums led the effort to coordinate the streaming event.

For the first time, Los Angeles-based Jafa has authorized the presentation of “Love is the Message” beyond a museum or gallery space. The decision will make the video more accessible, bringing it to an exponentially broader worldwide audience that might not otherwise have the opportunity to view it. The free, continuous live stream will be accompanied by a pair of virtual panel discussions.

Each of the participating museums owns an edition of the work. These institutions are streaming “Love is the Message”:


Trailer: ARHTUR JAFA: Love is the Message, The Message is Death. | Video by Tate


THE KILLING OF GEORGE FLOYD by Minneapolis police on May 25 has rallied the public, prompting ongoing multiracial and multi-generational protests. In the wake of the widespread response calling for police prosecutions, police reform, and racial justice, museums have been expressing their concern and “solidarity with the Black community.” Museums are offering largely symbolic gestures, posting messages in support of Black Lives Matter on their websites and tailoring their programming and content to Black art and artists.

The streaming of “Love is the Message” is a fortunate result of the trend. The video installation has been highly praised by the Black community and the international art world. Jafa nabbed the 2019 Prix International d’Art Contemporain (PIAC). The international prize for contemporary art is awarded every three years for a recent work by the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco. He was recognized for “Love is the Message.”

Jafa shot some original scenes for the video and draws on previous projects, interspersing these images with found material from documentary films, news footage, music videos, and social media. Intentionally raw and unvarnished, throughout the presentation many of the video images show a timestamp or YouTube source, and a number of the photographs contain watermarks from the likes of Getty Images and The New York Times.


ARTHUR JAFA, Still from “Love is the Message, The Message is Death, 2016. | Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York/Rome


Some of the footage is familiar and takes on new meaning and impact in context with other images. Early in the video, we see President Obama sing “Amazing Grace” after delivering the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In 2015, Pinckney was shot and killed by a white supremacist in his Charleston, S.C., church, along with eight parishioners.

There is documentation of a white police officer violently pushing a 15-year-old teenage girl to the ground during a pool party in McKinney, Texas, near Dallas. The moment when Walter Scott is shot and killed from behind as he is running away from a white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., is shown, too. Hard to watch, both of these incidents also occurred in 2015 and the footage was aired repeatedly on network news.

Sorrowful scenes are offset by moments of joy and creativity. There are glimpses of artist Martine Syms, lyricist Lauryn Hill, and Biggie Smalls rapping on the block at age 17.

Sorrowful scenes are offset by moments of joy and creativity. There are glimpses of artist Martine Syms, lyricist Lauryn Hill, and Biggie Smalls rapping on the block at age 17. Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, and James Brown appear, too. There are flashes of Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, as well as Angela Davis, SNCC Founder Ella Baker, and Bayard Rustin, a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

Jafa, who won the Golden Lion at the 58th Venice Biennale last year, also incorporates personal moments. Clips from his daughter’s wedding and footage of his mother dancing at the wedding are included. All kinds of dancing is spliced throughout the video and there are repeated appearances of the sun.

“…the sun is the appropriate scale at which to consider what’s going on. It’s fundamentally an assertion that black people’s lives should be seen on a cosmological level,” Jafa said in an interview with Jace Clayton for Frieze magazine.

“I’m frustrated when people talk about the video narrowly in terms of Black Lives Matter. I can’t deny that relationship, but it’s also related to rapture, to redemption, to Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa [1647–52]. I see black people’s lives in epic, mythic terms. And, on a simpler level, I want you to look up at these things that are happening to black people, not down—the way you would stare at the sun.” CT


TOP IMAGE (Lauryn Hill): ARTHUR JAFA, Still from “Love is the Message, The Message is Death,” 2016. | Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York/Rome


FIND MORE Two roundtable panel discussions organized by Arthur Jafa will accompany the screenings on Saturday, June 27, at 2 p.m. EDT, and on Sunday, June 28, at 2:00 p.m. EDT on Saturday participants are Peter L’Official, Josh Begley, Eleeza Kelley, and Thomas Lax, moderated by Tina Campt. On Sunday, Tina Campt is also moderating with participants Aria Dean, Rashaad Newsome, Isis Pickens, and Simone White


ARTHUR JAFA, Installation of “Love is the Message, The Message is Death,” 2016 in “The Message: New Media Works” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017. | Courtesy of Arthur Jafa and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome. Photo by Cathy Carver


Joined by Greg Tate, Arthur Jafa leads a frame by frame discussion about “Love is the Message, The Message is Death.” | Video by Gavin Brown’s enterprise


Looking forward to more readily available publications exploring the work of Arthur Jafa. “Love is the Message” was published by the Jafa’s gallery, Gavin Brown’s enterprise. “Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions” also documents the artist’s work. “Cahiers d’Art: Arthur Jafa: 43rd Year” counts Hans Ulrich Obris among its contributors. “My Black Death” is an early pamphlet. In addition, Jafa contributed to photographer Ming Smith’s forthcoming book “Ming Smith: An Aperture Monograph” and conducted a conversation with Deana Lawson for her publication “Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph.”

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