Arthur Jafa

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Arthur Jafa
Arthur Jafa (2019, Prague).jpg
Jafa in Prague in 2019
Arthur Jafa Fielder

Alma materHoward University
Notable work
Daughters of the Dust
Awards"Best Cinematography" Sundance Film Festival 1992

Arthur Jafa (born Arthur Jafa Fielder; 1960) is an American video artist and cinematographer.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Arthur Jafa (pronounced Jay-Fah) was born on November 30, 1960 in Tupelo, Mississippi and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi which was highly segregated at the time he grew up. His mom and dad were both educators. As a child, Arthur Jafa assembled binders full of found images in collections he called "the books." He also grew up watching shows like "I spy," and other science fiction programs which informed his artistic practice as an adult, which is directly seen in his self portrait "LeRage," (2017). His work was also inspired by his interest in prominent black jazz music and musicians such as Miles Davis.[2]

Jafa studied architecture and film at Howard University before moving to Atlanta, Georgia.[3][4]


Arthur Jafa has exhibited at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Julia Stoschek Collection, as well as many others.[5][6][7] His role as a cinematographer with directors such as Julie Dash and Spike Lee has been notable, with his work on Daughters of the Dust (1991) winning the "Best Cinematography" Award at Sundance.[8]

His seven-minute video essay Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the High Museum of Art.[1][9] Set to Kanye West's song "Ultralight Beam", the work consists of a series of found images and video clips depicting a range of Black American experiences throughout history. Among many other clips exploring African American life and resiliency, the video essay juxtaposes recordings of police violence and footage from the Civil Rights Movement with clips of Black artistry, pop culture, celebration, and creativity.[10] On Friday, June 26, 2020, 13 museums in 7 countries pledged, with Jafa's blessing, to stream the work for free on their respective websites for 48 hours.[11]

Jafa also has worked on a number of music videos and was notably the director of photography on videos for Solange's Don't Touch My Hair and Cranes in the Sky.[12] He was included in the 2017 ArtReview Power 100 list.[13] Arthur Jafa co-founded TNEG along with Malik Sayeed, a "motion picture studio whose goal is to create a black cinema as culturally, socially, and economically central to the 21st century as was black music to the 20th century".[14] TNEG has produced a number of works such as Dreams Are Colder Than Death and the music video for Jay-Z's song 4:44. In 2018, Jafa released the approximately forty minute-long video essay entitled The White Album, which uses found video clips from CC TV, cell phones, documentaries, and more to explore whiteness and racism in the United States of America.[15][16] His work is represented by Gavin Brown's Enterprise.[17][18] He was awarded the Golden Lion for best artist at the 2019 Venice Biennale for his film "The White Album".[19] In 2020, he produced a music video for Kanye West's single 'Wash Us In The Blood', off Kanye's album God's Country. He is currently working on a project that is a feature film that focuses on how black music has greatly influenced American culture.

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b Freeman, Nate (2018-03-27). "The Messenger: How a Video by Arthur Jafa Became a Worldwide Sensation—and Described America to Itself". ARTnews. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
  2. ^ "Biography Arthur Jafa". Moderna Museet i Stockholm. Retrieved 2019-11-12.
  3. ^ Freeman, Nate (2018-03-27). "The Messenger: How a Video by Arthur Jafa Became a Worldwide Sensation—and Described America to Itself". ARTnews. Retrieved 2019-02-26.
  4. ^ "Dreams are Colder than Death: Screening & Talk with Arthur Jafa". Barnard Center for Research on Women. 2016-09-08. Retrieved 2019-02-26.
  5. ^ Hornaday, Ann (2017-11-15). "Filmmaker Arthur Jafa makes his Hirshhorn debut with a stunning video installation". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
  6. ^ "Arthur Jafa: Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death". The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
  7. ^ "'Black People Figured Out How to Make Culture in Freefall': Arthur Jafa on the Creative Power of Melancholy | artnet News". artnet News. 2018-02-21. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
  8. ^ "Arthur Jafa". IMDb. Retrieved 2018-08-11.
  9. ^ "Arthur Jafa's Crucial Ode to Black America". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
  10. ^ "Arthur Jafa: Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death • MOCA". The Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  11. ^ Smee, Sebastian (June 26, 2020). "One of the most powerful works of video art will be available free online this weekend. Here's why you must watch". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  12. ^ "Arthur Jafa and the Future of Black Cinema - Interview Magazine". Interview Magazine. 2017-01-11. Retrieved 2018-11-26.
  13. ^ "Art Review Power 100". ArtReview.
  14. ^ "TNEG". TNEG. Retrieved 2018-11-26.
  15. ^ Sargent, Antwaun (2018-12-28). "Black Cinema Pioneer Arthur Jafa's New Film Dissects the Problems of "Whiteness"". Artsy. Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  16. ^ "Arthur Jafa / MATRIX 272 | BAMPFA". Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  17. ^ "Gavin Brown's Enterprise: Arthur Jafa".
  18. ^ "Arthur Jafa's Profound Meditations on Black America". The New York Times. 2018-05-17. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
  19. ^ "Venice Biennale's Top Prize Goes to Lithuania". The New York Times. 2019-05-11. Retrieved 2019-05-11.