Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, the Message is Death at Store Studios, 180 The Strand
Arthur Jafa’s ‘Love is the Message, the Message is Death’ is a contemporary visual reflection of black American history installed at Store Studios London. Following his critically-acclaimed Serpentine exhibition, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, the Mississippi-born artist and film-maker’s work is shown at Store Studios in a giant bespoke tent on the rooftop of 180 The Strand, which is co-presented by the Serpentine Galleries and The Vinyl Factory.
The tent which houses the exhibition, is inspired by revival tents from the Southern United States that were used as gathering places for Christian worshipers to host meetings, healing ceremonies, rallies, and preacher’s speak.
The theme of religion continues with the video being played to a backing track of Kanye West’s gospel inspired hip-hop track, ‘Ultralight Beam’. The video is compiled from found footage that traces African-American identity through a vast spectrum of contemporary imagery. The flawlessly edited seven-minute video jumps between stills and videos of civil rights leaders and protests with helicopter views of the LA riots, which leaves viewers in suspense, hanging on to every piece of the emotional montage Jafa has skilfully created. The video poignantly embodies Jafa’s desire to create a cinematic experience that ‘replicates the power, beauty and alienation of Black Music’.
The video includes clips of former American President, Barack Obama singing ‘Amazing Grace’ to a mass of people, who are stood in silence and awe watching someone so proud and willing to bring communities of people together, regardless of race, belief, or where they come from.
Other clips in the video show scenes of police brutality in America towards people of colour, including children and young teenagers. One clip shows a father teaching his infant son how to stand against a wall with his hands up, explaining this is how the police will treat him. Watching the crying infant, who doesn’t understand hate or racial discrimination at such a young age, is absolutely blood-curdling. Viewers watching will be stunned upon seeing this footage, at the fact that a father feels the need and the fearful sense of urgency to teach his child these things, out of fear from the people who are supposed to protect you, just because of the colour of his skin.
The video montage includes clips from films such as ‘Alien’ and ‘Cloverfield’ to express the notion that African-Americans are viewed as ‘aliens’ or as ‘bad people’ rather than as humans. The use of these ‘aliens’ expresses the feeling of outcast and horror that many African-Americans endure, as the aliens in these films are singled out and attacked by figures of law and authority.
Not every clip is so distressing for the viewers, as footage of people dancing to ‘Teach Me How To Dougie’ by Cali Swag District plays. Viewers can see groups of people enjoying themselves, coming together to enjoy the universal language of music and dance.
Musicians and famous sports figures are shown, many of whom viewers will be familiar with, such as boxing champion Muhammed Ali and NBA basketball legend, Michael Jordan. Jordan is shown celebrating his victories with his teammates. A team full of culture and variants, where players of all races and backgrounds stand united and celebrate together, as a family.
Jafa’s work is an eye opener to viewers who have been seeing the world through blurred vision. The video shows an exciting culture of people, who are just that - people. It shows the way in which a group of people are treated differently because of the colour of their skin; by people who fail to understand that we all share the same red blood.
Jafa has used his incredible talent to create a piece of art that captivates and inspires viewers to acknowledge the beauty of African-American culture and to embrace it as part of the nation’s whole, rather than something that is alien and peripheral.
Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, the Message is Death is on at at Store Studios, 180 The Strand until 14th December. Further information may be found here.