b. 1960

Arthur Jafa Artworks

Through his video montages, collages and installations recognised for their visceral emotion, Jafa challenges and questions the meaning of and assumptions about Blackness.

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Dreams Are Colder Than Death

In 2014, Arthur Jafa collaborated with filmmaker Kahlil Joseph to produce Dreams Are Colder Than Death, a short, experimental documentary that reflects upon the legacy of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech. Weaving together slow-motion images of ordinary Black people with those of water and deep space, and featuring prominent figures of contemporary Black studies and arts such as Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten and Kara Walker, the film contemplated the ontology of Blackness in today's world.

It was also during this year that Jafa co-founded TNEG—a motion picture studio that supports Black independent film—with curator Elissa Blount Moorhead and filmmaker Malik Sayeed.

Love Is The Message

In November 2016, Jafa debuted his iconic Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death at Gavin Brown's enterprise in New York. The seven-minute movie exemplifies his exploration of Black visual intonation and montage by collaging a multitude of images sourced from the news, television and the internet. The work includes footage of Black icons, from Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson to former president Barack Obama; phone videos of ordinary African Americans, most anonymous, at gatherings with family and friends or in the midst of racially provoked police violence; coverage of athletic events; as well as excerpts from Jafa's own work, Dreams are Colder than Death (2012), while Kanye West's 'Ultralight Beam' plays in the background.

On the one hand, Love Is The Message is a celebration of Black culture, with the hundreds of anonymous bodies in the video defying a monolithic definition of Blackness and serving as a reminder of complex and singular individuals who constitute Black identity. On the other hand, the video montage also reveals the conditions of racial discrimination under which African Americans live in the US, some of which are overlooked or systematically imposed by the state.

Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions

Jafa's earlier and new works intersected in the 2017 Serpentine Galleries exhibition A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions to address the intimacy between life and death that African Americans experience in the US.

In addition to his audio-visual montages and collages, Jafa also invited photographer Ming Smith, artist Frida Orupabo and YouTuber Missylanyus to show their works in the exhibition which was co-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Amira Gad for Serpentine Galleries in London in 2017. The exhibition centrepiece, Mix1-4_constantly evolving (2017), consists of four video collages that intersperse both personal and found footage: the artist playing with his children; excerpts from old documentaries; concert clips of Jimi Hendrix performing guitar solos and more. Elsewhere, Jafa's collages juxtaposed historical and contemporary images of complex African American experience.

Mickey Mouse was a Scorpio (2016) places the famed Walt Disney character next to the photograph of a contemporary minstrel who has painted a white skeleton over his blackface. Drawing on the history of Mickey Mouse as a racist icon, Jafa comments on the relentless appropriation of Afro-American culture by its mainstream white counterpart. In Monster (1988), Jafa brings the camera to his own face, directing the gaze back to the viewer. Inside the exhibition space, he defiantly stares back at Micky Mouse.

The White Album

Exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2019, Arthur Jafa's Golden Lion-winning video work The White Album (2018), reflects upon whiteness and white visual culture. It pools together a cast of the privileged to explore themes of white supremacy and white privilege in present-day America.

Browse Artworks
Untitled by Arthur Jafa contemporary artwork works on paper, sculpture
Arthur Jafa Untitled, 2022 Metal rails, plastic pipes, paint
53.3 x 408.9 x 15.2 cm
Pace Gallery
Foxy Lady by Arthur Jafa contemporary artwork print
Arthur Jafa Foxy Lady, 2021 Archival pigment inkjet print on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl
35.6 x 26 cm
Gladstone Gallery Enquire
Fia by Arthur Jafa contemporary artwork print
Arthur Jafa Fia, 2002, printed 2021 Archival pigment inkjet print on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl
15.2 x 12.7 cm
Gladstone Gallery Enquire
Superconductor by Arthur Jafa contemporary artwork painting
Arthur Jafa Superconductor, 2003, printed 2021 Archival pigment inkjet print on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl
12.1 x 15.9 cm
Gladstone Gallery Enquire
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