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Shaping the Contemporary Art: Arthur Jafa - Artist Review

May 11, 2021 09:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian
arthur jafa artist

“I've pushed myself to push toward things that disturb me. I've developed a habit of recording these things because these things often disappear” - Arthur Jafa

Contemporary art, by definition, means 'the art of today.' When we think about our present, our mind starts to travel through the waves of reality and turmoil. Whether it's the pandemic, racism, or inequality, we are surrounded by a whirlpool of chaos. During such times, people can often tend to rely on artistic mediums to showcase reality through their personal perspectives. Among those artists is Arthur Jafa,  a leading contemporary artisan whose work has showcased a multilayered, dynamic flow of creativity, specializing in Black visual and musical aesthetics.

Figure 1 - Arthur Jafa in Prague. Source- Wikipedia

During my educational period in contemporary art, Arthur Jafa's 'APEX' was the case study in MoMA's online course. In the interview piece, he was describing his early creative process, including collecting many pictures from magazines. This obsessive collection of images lead to a creative process that transitioned from a sketchbook to APEX. APEX is a curation of photographs presented in a fast-paced slideshow methodology with a soundtrack of electronic club beats. The concept is a complex workflow of history, reality, and surrealism that blends perfectly with a bold color palette of red, blue, black, and white. From an audience's point of view, APEX was a small crack into a different dimension of expressionism where the inventive methodology had the power to grab the audience's consciousness and stay in their minds for a long time.

Figure 2 - A Clip from APEX. Source- Youtube capture.


Intrigued by APEX, I started to explore more of Jafa’s creative work and tried to understand his process. This journey lead me to his famous work 'Love is the Message, the Message is Death.' which is a combination of footages with important figures such as Martin Luther King, Serena Williams, and Barack Obama. This seven-and-a-half-minute film also showcased the reality of police brutality against Black people, along with the cultural significance that Black artists have contributed to the global platform. The blend of Arthur's visual journey and Kanye West's 'Ultralight Beam' soundtrack elevated the wounds and wonders of Black culture, some of which were neglected from the pages of history.

Figure 3 - A Clip from ‘Love is the Message, The Message is Death’. Source- Youtube capture.

Looking at the overall work of Arthur, he has given a strong voice to the Black culture, displaying the hard-hitting actualities and creative threads that bonded his work together into a masterpiece. Many of the clips may look like new information to the rest of the world, but for a Black individual, it is not surprising. With every film, Arthur has managed to fill the gap between the rest of the world and Black culture's struggle, their perseverance, and their strength. After three decades of creative workflow, Arthur's work has created a landmark in the contemporary world and made an extraordinary difference by being the loudest and most realistic voice for  Black people.

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

Read more from Anand Subramanian:

Entering the Inner Sanctum: Exploring the Art of Portraits

My 14-day Marriage with COVID-19

A Legacy of Strength & Love - Mother’s Day