Arthur Jafa


Arthur Jafa’s dynamic practice comprises films, artefacts, and happenings, which tackle Black culture and experience in the US with unprecedented intensity and complexity. With a career spanning three decades as an artist, filmmaker, and cinematographer, Jafa’s multidisciplinary works challenge and question prevailing cultural assumptions about identity and race through his immersive and experimental cinematic experiences. At the 58th Venice Biennale (2019), his outstanding work The White Album, featured in the central exhibition May You Live in Interesting Times, was awarded the Golden Lion for best presentation.

A recurring question underscores his multifaceted practice: how can visual media and objects transmit the equivalent “power, beauty, and alienation” that is embedded within Black music in the United States. An investigation also recalled by the title of the exhibition, RHAMESJAFACOSEYJAFADRAYTON, which mentions the names of three electric guitar players: Arthur Rhames (1957-1989), Pete Cosey (1943-2012), Ronny Drayton (1953-2020).

RHAMESJAFACOSEYJAFADRAYTON focuses on Arthur Jafa’s latest video work AGHDRA (2021). This multimedia installation wraps the visitor in an 85 minutes long, computer-generated imagery of opulent and mesmerizing black waves, which evolve constantly under an eternal sunset. A state-of-the-art sound system makes it possible to not only hear the immersive installation’s sound, but to experience it physically through vibrations. The sound simultaneously supports and interrupts this stream of consciousness viewer response. Lyrics from mostly Black popular songs like Love don’t live here, live here no more (Rose Royce, Love don’t live here anymore, 1978) amplify an evoked apocalyptic scenario.

Demanding multisensory engagement, AGHDRA is contextualized through a series of wallpapers, and prints, reflecting Arthur Jafa’s ongoing research into Blackness. This section presents a selection of images deriving from his Picture Books – collections of found imagery that the artist started in the mid 80’s, driven by the “obsessive” impulse “to push towards things that disturb me” and “not to pull back from them.” These source books contain intense, beautiful, raw, surprising, terrifying, and thought-provoking imagery, which has found its way into Arthur Jafa’s now iconic video works like Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016), APEX (2013) and more recently Kanye West’s (Ye) music video Wash Us In The Blood feat. Travis Scott (2020).

The exhibition was originally developed with Amira Gad. The newly developed iteration is part of Serpentine’s tour of Jafa’s exhibition A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, and was specially conceived by the artist for the cathedral-like space of OGR Torino.

Arthur Jafa

OGR, Turin
04.11.22 — 12.02.23

The show is commissioned and produced by OGR Torino in collaboration with Serpentine and curated by Claude Adjil and Judith Waldmann with Hans Ulrich Obrist.

All Images
Installation view at OGR Torino, 2022.
Ph. Andrea Rossetti for OGR Torino.
Courtesy OGR Torino