Arthur Jafa: Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death

20 January

April 7, 2024

Institute of Modern Art

In just seven-and-a-half minutes, Arthur Jafa’s roller-coaster montage video Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death encapsulates African American experience as a tale of resilience. It combines original footage by Jafa—an artist with a long career as a cinematographer and director—with excerpts from films, newscasts, sports coverage, music clips, and citizen videos.

Scenes of trauma, racism, grief, and routine police violence are shuffled with others of joy, defiance, and creativity, including performances by exceptional Black athletes, dancers, and musicians. Set to Kanye West’s emotional gospel anthem ‘Ultralight Beam’, it is a poignant, visceral, kaleidoscopic meditation on African American life, history, and identity.

Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death exemplifies Jafa’s goal to craft a ‘Black cinema’, with strong ties to music, responsive to the ‘existential, political, and spiritual’.

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