Whilst in Chicago this summer I attended the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and stumbled upon a powerful video montage by Arthur Jafa called, “Love is the message, the message is Death”. Set to Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam”, the video contains found footage displaying contemporary imagery that tries to trace and connect not only American culture but most importantly black culture through time. Jafa examines African American identity through history and focuses on what it means to contribute to the subject of black representation.
I sat through Jafa’s piece twice trying to take in all it’s proclaiming but I struggled to gather it all. The art spoke about a multitude of relationships and interactions which contribute to the complex discussion of its subject(s).
In an interview with the Louisiana Channel, Jafa describes how he has always collected images since he was a kid and how this progressed into his later work. He had no intention of making a portrait of America but just to collect and compile things he was attracted to onto a file. This file then became a strung-out video (with tweaking of course) that Arthur Jafa became highly interested in and shared with others.
“Sometimes I feel like you have to put things together to figure out what you actually are attracted to.” (Jafa, Louisiana Channel)
Jafa explained how when he was a kid there was no documentation of abuse to black people. However, as technology advanced there was a “title wave of documentation” of violence against black people. He explained how the violence was always happening but it was the documentation that was new and revolutionary.
“As I was collecting the files, I wasn’t collecting them to do anything. I was just collecting them in a sense because I noticed things would appear and then no longer be available; disappear. I kept these files mostly so I could look back at them if I wanted to.” (Jafa, Louisiana Channel)
When first looking at “Love is the message, the message is Death” I believed it to be a piece of artwork that came with an elaborate art practice. However, after watching Jafa’s interview with the Louisiana Channel I understood his work is a culmination of imagery that he is attracted to, him figuring out why he is attracted to it and how these images all connect together. He had no intention of creating this monumental piece but instead to figure out what the montage meant to him and others.
Love is the message, the message is Death is an interesting piece to me not only because of its content but also because of how Jafa created it. Jafa explained that he didn’t make these videos important but instead by stringing them all together, he made them important in a different light. Jafa is saying to have people look at things for what they are.
The videos themselves could be argued that they are not art but Arthur Jafa is announcing that they are art.
P.S. here is a link to a definitely illegal version of it on youtube but it is a must watch–> LOVE IS THE MESSAGE, THE MESSAGE IS DEATH