Of triumph and tragedy

I first saw Arthur Jafa’s haunting and devastating Love is the Message, The Message of Death more than two years ago at SF MOMA.

Saisha Grayson, a curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as quoted in Smithsonian Magazine, describes my experience of watching it best: “I cry every time,” she says. “I cry at different parts, for different reasons, but I’m never not profoundly moved.”

Two years later, I still feel that way.

Since that day, I’ve been scouring the Internet to see if it would move beyond gallery walls so I could share it more broadly. I think it’s an incredibly important film to watch and sit with, and I want everyone in my life to see it. In 7 minutes, set to the Kanye’s epic gospel Ultralight Beam, Jafa summarized for me the complicated, contradictory relationship that our culture has with Black identity, how easily our culture can idolize and villainize Black identity in the same breath. The film forced me to reflect on the ways that I’m complicit in this culture.

I finally found a watchable bootleg! Please, please watch. And if you do, you might enjoy chewing on this great conversation between Arthur Jafa and Virgil Abloh, previously a creative director for Kanye West.

P.S. Special shout out to Radha and Dinika, who saw it with me the first time, and the many times afterward. We couldn’t just see it once. Thank you both for making the space to take it all in.