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Arthur Jafa, Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, 2016.
Photograph: Courtesy Arthur Jafa and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome

Tate is part of a global stream of Arthur Jafa’s ‘Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death’

The artist’s intense, powerful video work considers Black identity and cultural discrimination

By
Chris Waywell
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Amid the news reports and talking heads, the police lines and protests, lives go on. That’s one of the messages of US artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa’s 2016 work ‘Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death’. The piece is a seven-minute video collaged from original and found clips – stuff off YouTube, off phones, off the news, off home movies, sports reports and music performances. In Jafa’s words, it’s ‘a Black display of Black excellence’. It’s also a troubling piece containing scenes of brutality and deprivation that shadow the celebrations and successes.  

This weekend, Tate is showing it for free for two days, in a live global stream alongside museums and galleries in the USA and Europe. There will also be two panel discussions of the piece convened by Jafa. 

When Jafa’s work was screened in London in 2017 on top of an office block, our Art editor Eddy Frankel gave it the big five stars

‘It’s perfectly edited, with endless simple little cuts slicing into the music, tearing apart at the imagery: a genuine masterclass in whipping the viewer into a fragile emotional state before knocking them to the ground. He sends you teetering through humour, horror, disgust, joy, pride and anger. You’re left reeling when a policeman brutally punches a young black girl; amazed when LeBron James slam dunks; staggered by John Coltrane shredding the sax; shocked at the sight of a young kid begging his spaced-out mother to wake up. Then there are clips of teens dancing in nightclubs, a woman riding in her car: simple, everyday things. Jafa weaves these strands together into a euphoric war cry, a chest-thumping, tear-stained scream of intent. This is the power of Black America, these are its weaknesses, here’s how it’s exploited, here’s how it stands the fuck up for itself.’

In the light of recent months, the work must take on a new significance – not just the events following the murder of George Floyd, but the ongoing evidence that Black communities in the States, the UK and across the world have seen a disproportionately high rate of coronavirus deaths. Jafa’s work is a patchwork of micro evidence, but its message is unified: the Black experience is mediated, moderated, expressed and consumed, but too often Black people are relegated to the sidelines.  

‘“Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death” is a hymn, a paean and a eulogy to Black America,’ we said in 2017. ‘It’s full of pride and wracked with heartbreak, it’s open and approachable, but defiant and independent. It genuinely had me in tears, and I truly believe that this is what art should be: powerful, emotional and absolutely vital. If this is what going to church is like, then call me a believer.’

Arthur Jafa’s ‘Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death’ is streaming from 7pm BST on Fri Jun 26 via Tate’s websiteIt’s available for 48 hours. The panel discussions are at www.sunhaus.us, 7pm Sat Jun 27 and 7pm Sun Jun 28. 

Read our full review of ‘Love Is the Message, the Message is Death’.

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