In 2016, off the heels of Donald Trump winning the US presidential election, artist Arthur Jafa debuted Love is the Message, The Message is Death, a video installation that compiles various photographs, video clips, and sounds depicting the lived Black experience in the US. Today, Jafa’s work is ever more poignant as recent events, including the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, have further highlighted racial injustices in the US and elsewhere. In light of current events, Love is the Message, The Message is Death will be live streamed this weekend on loop for 48 hours straight through 14 international institutions.
Set against Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam, which features Chance the Rapper, The Dream, and Kelly Price, Love is the Message, The Message is Death juxtaposes moments of joy and triumph with those of violence, discrimination, and pain within Black America. Video from historical events, news clips, police footage, scenes from movies, original photos and footage, religious scenes, and more give an archival snapshot into the everyday lives of Black people, from “Jim Crow to Ferguson,” to quote the High Museum. At just seven and a half minutes long, Jafa’s work is striking and powerful. This weekend will be the first time that the artist has authorized the work to be shown outside of the museums which hold editions.
Love is the Message, The Message is Death was followed by The White Album (2018), a 40 minute-long video further examining the “dual sense of intimacy and rejection” felt by Black people at the hands of those who are white. In the same year the videos debuted, Jafa disclosed that he would no longer create any films similar to these as he felt the overwhelming response of white viewers was largely performative.
“I started to feel like I was giving people this sort of microwave epiphany about blackness and I started feeling very suspect about it,” Jafa told The Guardian regarding his film in a 2018 interview. “After so many ‘I cried. I crieds’, well, is that the measure of having processed it in a constructive way? I’m not sure it is.”
Concerning the upcoming livestream, however, Jafa stated that he is “thrilled for the opportunity, finally, to have as many people as possible see Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death.”
Each participating museum will begin streaming the film Friday, June 26th at 2pm EDT and run continuously through Sunday, June 28th 2pm EDT. During and just after the streaming, two round table discussions convened by the artist will be held and moderated by Tina Campt. On Saturday, June 27th, Peter L’Official, Josh Begley, Eleeza Kelley, and Thomas Lax will partake while a roundtable held Sunday will include Aria Dean, Rashaad Newsome, Isis Pickens, and Simone White.
Washington DC’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, who jointly acquired an edition of the film in 2018, spearheaded the idea for streaming Jafa’s work. They will be joined by the other institutions that own editions of the work, which include the Dallas Museum of Art; Glenstone Museum; High Museum of Art in Atlanta; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Studio Museum in Harlem; Julia Stoschek Collection Berlin; Luma Arles and Luma Westbau; Pinault Collection in Paris and Palazzo Grassi in Venice; Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; and the Tate in London.