Institute of Modern Art

Arthur Jafa: Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death

Experience Arthur Jafa's seminal work on African American experience, exploring the 'existential, political, and spiritual'.


Event Details



Event Starts

Jan 20, 2024

Event Ends

Apr 7, 2024


Institute of Modern Art


420 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley QLD, Australia

In seven-and-a-half minutes, Arthur Jafa’s roller-coaster montage video Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016) traverses the African American experience as a tale of resilience. It exemplifies Jafa’s goal to craft a ‘black cinema’, with strong ties to music, responsive to the ‘existential, political, and spiritual’.

Jafa—an artist with a long career as a cinematographer and director—intercuts original footage with excerpts from movies, newscasts, sports coverage, music clips, and citizen videos. Scenes of trauma, racism, grief, and routine police violence are shuffled with others of joy, defiance, and creative brilliance, such as performances by Black athletes, dancers, and musicians.

We see Miles Davis and Martin Luther King, Michael Jackson and Louis Farrakhan, Serena Williams and Aretha Franklin. There’s Jafa’s daughter on her wedding day and Barack Obama singing ‘Amazing Grace’ at a Charleston church where nine people were murdered by a white supremacist. There are shots from The Birth of a Nation and Alien and close-ups of the sun. 

Jafa’s juxtapositions prompt us to connect incommensurable images. He sets his kaleidoscopic, scrapbook of African American life, history, and identity to Kanye West’s plaintive gospel hip-hop anthem ‘Ultralight Beam’, with associations ricocheting between the images and West’s poignant lyrics. 

Taken as a whole, Jafa’s montage comprises a poignant, visceral meditation on African American life, identity, and history. It is also a time capsule. We view it now, eight years on, as history has moved around it—with Jafa’s rise, West’s fall, and Trump again seeking the presidency. 

Experience Arthur Jafa: Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death at the Institute of Modern Art from 20 January–7 April 2024. Find out more via