Arthur Jafa is an artist, director, editor, and award-winning cinematographer whose poignant work expands the concept of black cinema while exploring African American experience and race relations in everyday life. He has stated, “I have a very simple mantra and it’s this: I want to make black cinema with the power, beauty, and alienation of black music.”
In his renowned work Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death (2016), he rendered a masterful compilation of found footage set to Kanye West’s transcendent, gospel-inspired hip-hop track “Ultralight Beam.” The result was a meticulously edited seven-minute montage that surveys African American identity through a vast spectrum of imagery, drawing from media sources such as the news, photography, the Internet, and television. Intercutting segments of his own footage with more well-known pictures from the civil rights era, recent scenes of police brutality, and iconic clips of extraordinary athleticism, Jafa established an emotional undercurrent for this complex terrain of cultural representation. In effect, the work is a testament to the emancipatory power of moving-image production.
MATRIX 272 features both a gallery installation and two evening programs of video screenings in BAMPFA’s Barbro Osher Theater. In the theater, videos Jafa has made over the last decade, including the documentary essay Dreams Are Colder Than Death (2013), screen alongside work he has selected made by others. The exhibition also debuts a newly commissioned video, The White Album (2018), on view in BAMPFA’s galleries. If Love Is The Message trained Jafa’s scrutiny on black experience, The White Album shifts his lens to white experience, acknowledging that neither can be understood in isolation from the another. Again, he combines imagery from a wide array of sources, from music videos to confessionals posted to YouTube, to produce a trenchant examination of race relations in the United States.
Reflecting the artist’s interest in found images and affective collage, the exhibition includes a series of notebooks that Jafa began assembling in the 1990s, which offer unique insight into his singular approach. The notebooks are on view in the Florence Helzel Works on Paper Study Center on the museum’s lower level Wednesdays 12–1, Thursdays 5–6, and by appointment.