An audience watching a large video projection featuring a dark-skinned person facing the camera in front of a bright yellow background.

Arthur Jafawith De Balie & Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Photo Zsarà Grünfeld, De Balie
Arthur Jafawith De Balie & Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam21 25 and 28 June 2020

In June 2020, Hartwig Art Foundation collaborated with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and De Balie in order to realise a unique exhibition of two seminal films by the acclaimed artist Arthur Jafa. The films were shown daily at De Balie from 21 – 25 June and on 28 June 2020 there was a conversation at De Balie in response to it, led by Jörgen Tjon A Fong, with – among others – artists Charl Landvreugd, Iris Kensmil and Raul Balai.

Hartwig Art Foundation supported this exhibition financially and through the loan of Jafa’s film The White Album.

Works on view

Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death (2016)
Video (colour, sound), 07:00 minutes, looped, collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death (2016) is a masterful 7-minute video of found footage set to Kanye West’s transcendent, gospel-inspired hip-hop track Ultralight Beam. The film traces African-American identity through a vast spectrum of contemporary imagery. From photographs of civil rights leaders watermarked with ‘Getty Images’ to helicopter views of the LA Riots to a wave of bodies dancing to ‘The Dougie’. While Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death poignantly embodies the artist’s desire to create a cinema that “replicates the power, beauty and alienation of Black Music,” it is also a reminder that the collective multitude defining Blackness is comprised of single individuals, manifold identities and their unaccountable differences.

The White Album (2018)
Video (colour, sound), approximately 40:00 minutes, looped, collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and Hartwig Art Foundation, commissioned by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)

The White Album (2018) is Jafa’s follow up to Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death and an unsparing portrait of whiteness in contemporary America. In this 40-minute film, Jafa weaves together Internet testimonials, broadcast clips, music videos and amateur home videos to form an audiovisual tapestry of ethnic relations in America. Under Jafa’s lens, but from two angles, we see that neither experience can be understood in isolation from the other.


For more than three decades Arthur Jafa (born 1960, Tulepo, Mississippi) has developed powerful artworks that refer to and question representations of blackness and whiteness. His work has been on view in museums, at film festivals and in art centers worldwide.

Jafa is an artist, director, editor, and award-winning cinematographer whose poignant work expands the concept of black cinema while exploring African American experience and etnic relations in everyday life. He has stated, “I have a very simple mantra and it’s this: I want to make black cinema with the power, beauty, and alienation of black music.” Jafa has developed a dynamic practice comprising films, artifacts and happenings that reference and question the universal and specific articulations of black being. Underscoring the many facets of Jafa’s practice is a recurring question: how can visual media, such as objects, static and moving images, transmit the equivalent power, beauty and alienation embedded within forms of black music in US culture?