Over the course of more than 30 years, Arthur Jafa (b. 1960, Tupelo, Mississippi; lives in New York) has examined prevailing assumptions about race and identity through an interdisciplinary practice that combines film, installation, sculpture, and performance. His much-celebrated 2016 video Love is the Message, the Message is Death (recently acquired by Pérez Art Museum Miami through the PAMM Collectors Council) captures the powerful emotions that underlie the African American experience, past and present.
Encompassing scenes of heightened beauty and humor, as well as instances of horrific violence, the work testifies to the immense cultural achievements of African Americans while alluding to the pain and suffering that black people have endured throughout this country’s history. The artist set the video to the soaring, gospel-inspired 2016 song “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West, the lyrics of which redouble the sense of hope, suffering, and transcendence that envelops Jafa’s landmark creation.
A graduate of Howard University, Washington, DC, Jafa has had solo exhibitions at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Vinyl Factory, London, among others. His work has been included in group shows at the Met Breuer, New York; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, Germany; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Italy; and the Vancouver Art Gallery. Jafa’s work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum; and Pérez Art Museum Miami, among other major public institutions. He directed the videos for Solange Knowles’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky” (both 2016), and Jay-Z’s “4:44” (2017); he also worked on Beyoncé Knowles’s video “Formation” (2016). He shows regularly at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.