Over the past three decades, artist, filmmaker and cinematographer Arthur Jafa (b. 1960, Tupelo, Mississippi) has boldly explored the relationship between visual culture and blackness in his works. Often drawing content from an archive of images and video clips culled from popular magazines, books, media and digital platforms like YouTube, Jafa engages with a complex notion of authorship and legitimacy. The visual experiences he creates seek to, in his words, “replicate the power, beauty, and alienation of black music.”
LeRage (2017) is confrontational stand-up cutout image of the comic book character the Incredible Hulk rendered at human scale; the artist considers it a kind of self-portrait. This work builds on Jafa’s childhood fascination with science fiction films, comics, and fanzines—like the Famous Monsters of Filmland by Walter Publishing—while exploring his complex identification with the characters who inhabit them. In Jafa’s rendering of the iconic character, the distinctive fluorescent green skin of the Hulk is reduced to a dark grayscale, suggesting that the character, in all its explosive rage, is a black man. In this work as well as many others, Jafa confronts an aesthetic associated with Black being that often unacknowledged yet historically inscribed in images and objects, comics, and films. By visually approximating yet recontextualizing these alienating narratives through a method he calls “affective proximity,” Jafa creates new opportunities for making these histories visible in the present.
Jafa’s work has been widely exhibited at film festivals and art institutions worldwide. He has been honored with solo exhibitions at Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Quebec, Canada (2020); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humblebæk, Denmark (2020); Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy (2019); Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2019); and Berkley Art Museum (2018), among others. He has participated in various group exhibitions including shows at Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2020); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2019); and SF MoMA, San Francisco, California (2018). Jafa received the Golden Lion Award at the 58thVenice Biennial, Venice Italy (2019) as well as the Best Documentary for his film Dreams are Colder than Death (2014) at the Black Star Film Festival. He also directed the videos for Solange Knowles’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky” (both 2016), and Jay-Z’s “4:44” (2017). Jafa’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D. C.; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Pérez Art Museum, Miami, among others.