'Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death' - Opening of Arthur Jafa's Exhibition at GBE
NEW YORK, United States - Visual artist Freddie L. Rankin II remarked "still processing" after viewing the 7-minute masterpiece entitled Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, a first-ever publicly released film by polymath Arthur Jafa to a packed house at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Harlem on November 12th, 2016.
It is indeed hard to put into words the sheer depth and breadth that is tackled in this riveting outpouring from Jafa. Snippets of police brutality, some of quite recent memory while others echoing days of slavery and civil rights, are laced with deft skill between moving images of extraordinary black excellence in all its forms - music, intellect, athleticism, and activism - all set to Kanye West's gospel-rap ballad "Ultralight Beam" featuring Kirk Franklin.
The back to back scenes of violence to sheer elation - hot dancing at a basement bashment to the fall out of a religiously convicted woman - put one's mind in unsteady terrain. If you have born witness to the trauma of the past few years and the rise and strength of the Black Lives Matter movement, the content of Jafa's piece is not unfamiliar, but nonetheless disconcerting. Lebron James, Floyd "Money" Mayweather, and Cam Newton juxtapose flooding in Katrina, KKK propaganda, and speeches by Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beyonce's award-winning "7/11" music video slips in between vogue-ing dancers in competitive rapture. Footage of a 17-year old Biggie battling in verse on a corner in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn segues to a battle of fire hoses on marching protestors in Selma. It is symphony and it is maddening. No more spoilers, but it is purely powerful and as Rankin II later stated "it is a testament to how through it all, we [black people] still enjoy ourselves."
Comfort food in the form of thick cut sourdough bread and piping hot bowls of meat and vegetable stew were on the menu as guests milled around the grand table and tucked-away chairs and benches spread throughout the large gallery space. Many watched Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death two or three times in the screening room seated in small groups on the floor, each viewing a new revelation.
In our current landscape, Jafa's film is a timely reminder of the call for greatness that is required to overcome the generational bigotry, deceit, lies, and injustices that black Americans face. A lesson that we will yet rise again and we will not be moved.
Witness Arthur Jafa's Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death through December 17, 2016 at Gavin Browne's Enterprise, a gallery on 429 127th Street in Harlem, New York.