Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death

Arthur Jafa American

Not on view

Accompanied by Kanye West’s anthem "Ultralight Beam" (2016), Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death consists of footage shot by Jafa, a visual artist with a long career as a cinematographer and film director, as well as clips sampled from films, newscasts, sporting events, music videos, and citizen videos, much of it downloaded from the Internet. These images traverse the twentieth century, focusing on the lives of Black people set against the backdrop of systemic racism and White supremacism. (As Jafa once said, "Over the course of my life doing this, I’ve trained myself to do the opposite of what’s human nature, and that is to recoil from things I don’t like. . . . I’ve pushed myself to push toward things that disturb me."[1]) The artist’s protagonists exist along a spectrum of fame, status, and notoriety: some are well-known, others anonymous, with a few belonging to his immediate family as well as his larger personal, creative, and intellectual community. Taken as a whole, Jafa’s montage comprises a poignant, visceral meditation on African American life, identity, and history. Scenes of trauma, racism, and grief, such as routine police violence, are joined by those of joy, defiance, and creativity, such as the performances by a range of exceptional Black athletes, dancers, and musicians. The sequencing and pacing of the video’s visual and sonic material is based on a strategy derived from African American music, what Jafa calls "Black Visual Intonation," in which "things" are put "in affective proximity to one another."[2] Sometimes the images in Love is the Message, the Message Is Death are synced with the music, for instance, at others they seem to resist it, creating a counter-rhythm. While the montage is alternately slowed or quickened, the music is mostly but not entirely continuous: it cuts out occasionally, and its volume sometimes rises and fades. The title of the video references the 1970s song "Love Is the Message" by Philly International’s studio orchestra MFSB (often heard on the television show "Soul Train") as well as the 1973 science fiction short story, "Love is the Plan and the Plan is Death," by the pseudo-anonymous author James Tiptree, Jr. Overall, Love is the Message, the Message is Death exemplifies Jafa’s goal to craft a "black cinema," one with strong ties to music, that is responsive to the "existential, political, and spiritual dimensions" of Black people.[3]

[1] Antwaun Sargent, "Arthur Jafa and the Future of Black Cinema," Interview Magazine, January 2017.

[2] Sargent 2017

[3] Sargent 2017

Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, Arthur Jafa (American, born Tupelo, Mississippi, 1960), Single-channel digital video, color, sound, 7 min., 25 sec.

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.