As a 21st century museum dedicated to representing diverse, multicultural communities, Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) strives to serve as a forum for open, honest, and difficult dialogue while creating understanding through the power of art. Since our birth as an institution, we have been dedicated to the work of Black and Brown artists. Our hearts are with George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. Now, more than ever, we stand in solidarity with our communities and with those who seek justice and reform.
Arthur Jafa speaking at PAMM
PAMM Collection artist Arthur Jafa has examined the issues and challenges around race and identity in America. In this video work, Love is the Message, the Message is Death, Jafa captures the powerful emotions that underlie the African American experience, past and present.
Jafa’s densely layered, seven-and-a-half-minute montage consists entirely of found film and video footage from the early 20th century through the civil rights era to the present day. It comprises a rapid-fire onrush of moving pictures: President Barack Obama breaking into the hymn “Amazing Grace” while delivering his eulogy for the parishioners gunned down by white supremacist Dylann Roof in Charleston in 2016; a raucous dance party; a civil rights protest march; the murder of Walter Scott, who was shot in the back while running away from a police officer (one of several episodes of police brutality that appear in the video); excerpts from D. W. Griffith’s blatantly racist 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation”; Serena Williams dancing on a tennis court; a family wading through muddy floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; James Brown falling to his knees, so overcome with theatrical emotion that he is unable to go on with his show.
Jafa confronts the spectacular way in which Black people are often represented within our visual culture while subverting the tendency of this kind of representation to reinforce racist paradigms. In the process, he imbues such depictions with a new emotive force, reversing the operations by which viewers become desensitized to them by dint of their constant repetition in our media-saturated world.
The artist set the video to the soaring, gospel-inspired 2016 song “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West, the lyrics of which redouble the sense of hope, suffering, and transcendence that envelops Jafa’s landmark creation.
Encompassing scenes of heightened beauty and humor, as well as instances of tragedy and horrific violence, the work testifies to the immense cultural achievements of African Americans while alluding to the pain that Black people have endured throughout America’s history.