Once again, Arthur Jafa has not gone easy on us. It is difficult to fluctuate with such virtuosity between torpor and beauty, terror and oneirism. With its entrancing images-movements enclosed in a tent and supported by music halfway between gospel and hip hop composed by Kanye West, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016) does not depart from his established procedure.
Having already visited the Met Breuer in New York, the Maja Hoffmann’s Fondation Luma in Arles, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, and the MOCA in Los Angeles, the installation now has a new home until the end of December at the Vinyl Factory (180, The Strand, London), organised by the Serpentine Galleries. Represented by the New York gallerist Gavin Brown, Arthur Jafa was a staple subject in the conversations at Frieze London in October.
The subject he has broached is Black American history, and he relates it in a tent. In addition to the dreamlike quality of the film, the reason it is set in a tent is as a reference to a custom in the southern US states in which Christian worshippers would meet in a marquee put up especially for meetings, healing sessions or to listen to a preacher speak.
“We are illegitimate products of the West. We are the descendants of Africans. We are bastards. In a society in which we are all either objects or subjects, we are between the two, in the situation between a classic object and classic subject”. In the history of the enslaved Black people in the United States, only their music had a privileged status. In seven minutes, the video retraces Afro-American identity through photographs of civil rights leaders set against images of the LA riots. Caught up in the simultaneity of the events and the emotions they engender, viewers experience exhilaration.
Arthur Jafa’s multisensorial experience ensures our interaction with a political message as necessary as it is blazing. White hot, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death fans the embers.
Name: Arthur Jafa
Birth: 1960, Tupelo, Mississippi
Residence: Los Angeles
Exhibition spaces: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2001); Media City, Seoul (2000); Black Box, CCAC Institute, Oakland, CA (2000); Artists Space, New York (1999).