Arthur Jafa

American artist and filmmaker shaping the trajectory of black art

‘I’m for the abolition of whiteness, but oftentimes, people conflate or confuse it with being anti-white. It’s not that at all… I’m for the abolition of systematic whiteness.’ Jafa emerged as something akin to the conscience of the American artworld with his 2016 video Love is the Message, the Message is Death (shown this year in Chicago, Liverpool and Sydney, now on view in Turin), an emotionally charged seven-minute montage of found footage charting the African-American experience, soundtracked by Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam (Jafa has directed music videos for Solange and Beyoncé Knowles). This year the artist flipped the coin: The White Album, which debuted at California’s Berkeley Art Museum before going on to score the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, was a powerful portrayal of white people as both perpetrators and victims of indoctrinated white supremacy. These videoworks’ outsize influence is apparent in the work of a new generation of artists addressing race and representation, notably Kahlil Joseph and Martine Syms.