On October eleventh, 2018 the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) organized the first artist talk of many more to come, as part of its “Scholl Lecture Series”. This first artist is Arthur Jafa, who has worked with the likes of Jay Z, Solange, and many others; he also has an artwork in the museum which is titled “Love is the Message, the Message is Death”. The impact of this artwork on my life made it a necessity for me to attend this talk. As the curtained off theatre, a perfect environment for any art event, dimmed, I prepared for a talk that would be equally thought provoking and just as powerful as the work which brought him to the museum.
Before even approaching discussing his art, the audience was given a good idea of the spontaneous and unique nature of Arthur Jafa. Before describing his various run-ins with Jean Michel Basquiat in New York, he began his talk by apologetically removing his contact lenses, which had been bothering him since landing in Miami earlier that day. Next, he spoke about how his upbringing in Clarksdale, Mississippi shaped his view on life, and as a result, his art. He shared that one of the defining moments in his life was at a movie theatre watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. The sharing of this revelation he experienced at the movie gave the audience an idea of where he draws inspiration in his art.
Jafa then showed his short film “Apex”. In the darkened auditorium, with techno music blaring, this work can only be described as suffocating and skin-crawling. In the best way possible. Seconds after the end of this riveting film ended, he asked the stunned members of the audience if there were any questions. For a few moments, the audience was silent, still attempting to process the barrage of images that had just been presented. As the questions came, Arthur Jafa allowed the audience to observe and gain insight into his creative process.
After a few more questions from the audience, Jafa showed a clip from a full length film he has been working on. After this film, he showed another video, in which we were able to see more of Jafa's rebellious nature. He played the video, despite the Museum's efforts to inform him that he had gone over time. This of course did not faze Arthur Jafa.
I feel Arthur Jafa's recounting of key moments in his life gave the audience and me an important insight into his art that we did not have coming in. Just from hearing his talk and mentions of his inspirations and creative process, I was able to see why and how his work addresses racism in such a powerful way. From his sharing of another work “Apex” I was able to get a better idea of the works in his oeuvre that I did not have before the talk.
Following are some interesting and thought-provoking quotes I want to share.
“I don’t do uplift, it’s not my thing”
“Once you figure stuff out you get bored with it”
“99.9% of what we see is from the perspective of white people”
“Y’all killed Basquiat”
“Nails that stick out get hammered down”