The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal is presenting Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, 2016, a rapid-fire montage of images from a mesmerizing range of sources set, to Kanye West’s hip-hop song Ultralight Beam. The work grew out of the recognition of the widespread circulation of images of the abuse of black bodies on YouTube. It oscillates between scenes of untenable violence and images of ordinary black life as well as iconic clips of such figures as Coretta King, Barack Obama, Nina Simone, Serena Williams and Lebron James, among many others. Kanye West’s gospel inspired track with its enveloping repetition of the lyrics –“ this is a God dream, this is a God dream, this is everything” – offers a sensual counterpoint to the intensity of the quick succession of image. At once a celebration of black creativity and excellence, and a depiction of the violence of the state, this immersive projection presents powerful and devastating manifestations of physical restraint and liberation, adapting for the screen the complexity of the Afro-American music experimentation.
Born in Mississippi in 1960, Jafa lives and works in Los Angeles. He has worked as a film director and cinematographer with directors and musicians such as Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, Julie Dash, Solange, Khalil Joseph and Jay Z. In 2016, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death propelled him onto the international contemporary art scene, and in 2019 he was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for his most recent work, The White Album, presented in the exhibition May You Live in Interesting Times.
His mantra is: “I want to make black cinema with the power, beauty and alienation of black music,” and he has declared that he wants to “force cinema to respond to the existential, political and spiritual dimensions of who we are as a people.”