press release

This month, the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) opens a new exhibition of works by Arthur Jafa, including the debut of a major new video installation commissioned by BAMPFA that follows Jafa’s internationally acclaimed 2016 work Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death.

The latest installment in BAMPFA’s MATRIX Program for Contemporary Art, Arthur Jafa / MATRIX 272 encompasses both a gallery installation and two evening screening programs in the museum’s Barbro Osher Theater. The exhibition centers on The White Album, an approximately forty-minute video projection. While much of Jafa’s earlier video work, including Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, has focused on black experience, The White Album uniquely shifts his lens to white experience. Drawing on such eclectic sources as cable news broadcasts, historical archives, music videos, and YouTube clips, Jafa assembles audiovisual collages of stirring emotional weight that examine the complicated and often painful history of race relations and identity in the United States. In Love Is The Message, videos of police shootings and civil rights protests are juxtaposed with iconic images of African American culture and achievement—from Barack Obama singing “Amazing Grace” to Stephen Curry making a behind-the-back pass—set to the gospel-inspired lyrics of Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam.” With The White Album, Jafa uses a similar formal approach to explore white identity, weaving together Internet testimonials, broadcast clips, music videos, and amateur home videos to form an audiovisual assemblage that offers an unsparing portrait of whiteness in contemporary America. Reflecting Jafa’s interest in found images and affective collage, the exhibition includes a display of notebooks that the artist began assembling in the 1990s, offering insight into his singular approach.

On Wednesday, December 12 at 6pm, Jafa will be joined in conversation by UC Berkeley Professor Stephen Best to discuss the artist’s shift between the worlds of art and film, the political resonance of his recent work, and the turn toward “Afropessimism” in black discourse. The conversation is free with museum admission.

In addition to the gallery installation, two evening programs in BAMPFA’s theater feature screenings of works Jafa has made over the past decade, presented alongside films and videos he has selected made by others. On Wednesday, February 27 at 7pm, Jafa appears in conversation with UC Berkeley professor Leigh Raiford for a screening of his 2014 documentary work Dreams Are Colder Than Death. 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, African American filmmakers, artists, and intellectuals reflect on where the civil rights struggle stands today in this moving work, screening with the short New Soul Rebel: Adrian Younge.

The following evening, February 28 at 7pm, Jafa is joined in conversation by the writer and musician Greg Tate for Affective Proximity, a program of films and videos (including YouTube videos) that explore the effects of violence on black individuals and communities while also depicting their brilliance and resilience. The program includes Jafa’s APEX and Cassowary, Dawn Suggs’s Chasing the Moon, Ben Caldwell’s I and I, and more. Jafa has described his film projects as an attempt to create what he describes as “black cinema with the power, beauty, and alienation of black music.”

Arthur Jafa / MATRIX 272 is co-organized by Apsara DiQuinzio, curator of modern and contemporary art and Phyllis C. Wattis MATRIX Curator, and Kate MacKay, associate film curator, with Matthew Colman, curatorial assistant. The MATRIX Program is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis and the continued support of the BAMPFA Trustees. Additional support provided by Meyer Sound. The screenings in the Barbro Osher Theater are presented with support from The National Endowment for the Arts.