skip to Main Content

Love is the Message, the Message is Death 

Arthur Jafa

Film installation.

Review by Linda Brogan


The Met: ‘Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death consists of footage shot by Jafa, a visual artist with a long career as a cinematographer and film director, as well as clips sampled from films, newscasts, sporting events, music videos, and citizen videos, much of it downloaded from the Internet. These images traverse the twentieth century, focusing on the lives of Black people … derived from African American music, what Jafa calls “Black Visual Intonation,” in which “things” are put “in affective proximity to one another.’

Jafa: ‘I’ve trained myself to do the opposite of what’s human nature, and that is to recoil from things I don’t like… I’ve pushed myself to push toward things that disturb me.’

Proclaiming, together, expressive, alone, marching, clapping, official, unbelievable body movements. Cop shoots. Protest. Placards. Bouncing on a clothed dick. Tranquil. Led by a white man. Barack Obama sings. Taken by the lord. Gangbangers. Angela Davies smirks. Blackface. Michael Jackson rehearses in the back of a car. Big woman belts it out. Slight, gold bikini woman shimmies. Bride. Girl on a balcony does her thing. Basketball.  ‘Mum wake up.’  Alien. Cop beating. KKK. ‘Birth of a Nation.’ White people cemented their hold. Keyboard. Modern lad’s lyrics intoned to 1970s dancer’s frilled sleeves. Girl tells it like it is, saying nothing; us from the ‘hood all know one. MLK. Politicians fight. Baby sleeps. Sun huge. Impassioned singers. Young woman pulled over. Why? Handcuffs. Dude is not fussed. Levee floods. Biggie small. MX. Burst fire-hydrant. Baseball. Waltz, black style. Miles Davies. Aw, the little boy with the cop twisting his arm up his back. Injured Olympian cries. Cop slams bikini girl so hard her ponytail laps. Sun goes down. Nina Simone. Cops march batons. Fire. Lady sashays real confident, or she’s on something. Sweetie leans on a beam. Water attack. Baton attack. Dragged. 1960s enjoy the street. BMX. Dudette winds her waist. Cop beatings. 1950s girls play in schoolyard. Modern counterpart displays in dad’s car. Fires. Cop body slams young woman clean off her feet. Pass me that weed. Modern, silent, pink lipstick, girl in back of car, arrests. Cowboys. She strides. They dance. Tractor. Aretha Franklin. Mohammed Ali. ‘Yes baby.’ ‘Well, madam.’ Keep them white shoes moving. Sun flares. Crowd watches Lord take girl. Monochrome sun. Female tennis winner bops: white crowd stops. Shovelling last minutes of someone on earth. Black power salutes out the top of a car. Congregation are hot, literally. Jimi Hendrix. Pass that ball. Play that sax. Flap those legs. Break dance. God, she’s beautiful. Black leather descends to the floor. Sun boiling. Lauryn Hill. The little boy told to put his hands against the wall, quivers, hesitates, decides, cries, looks back at us. Death. More big woman heart. Slam dunk. Sway baby. Keep that purple rump moving. Shake it baby. Sun orange. James Brown drops.


Didn’t catch it all.

Now add Kanye West’s anthem, as Jafa did after the images. Feel the hairs rise on

your arms. Your heart deepens with the organ.

We on an ultralight beam
We on an ultralight beam
This is a God dream
This is a God dream
This is everything

 Perfection!  Greater than the sum of its parts!  Here, Jafa talks about it: