Arthur Jafa

American artist and filmmaker shaping the trajectory of black art

It’s rare that a single artwork encapsulates the times, but Jafa’s Love is the Message, the Message is Death (2016) undoubtedly does. Shown repeatedly and to acclaim – and bought by the Met, MOCA LA and other institutions – since it debuted at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise before the 2016 US election, the seven-minute film is a collaged summa of the black American experience, like a journey inside someone’s dreams and nightmares: police brutality, sports and music stardom, evocations of community, civil rights footage and more, tied together by the music of Kanye West, Earl Sweatshirt and others. It seems all the more extraordinary that Jafa, in his late fifties, presented it after a decade out of the spotlight. Now the artworld has clasped him to its bosom, and Jafa returned to Gavin Brown this year with an ambitious show mixing video, photography and sculpture, reaffirming him as a vital voice in turbulent times.