Profile: Arthur Jafa (1960-)

Arthur Jafa is an African American video artist and cinematographer.

Early life and education

Arthur Jafa 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. Jafa studied architecture and film at Howard University before moving to Atlanta, Georgia


Arthur Jafa has exhibited at the Hirshhorn, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Julia Stoschek Collection, as well as many others.  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.


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. 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.

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. He was included in the 2017 ArtReview Power 100 list. 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”. 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.  His work is represented by Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.  He was awarded the Golden Lion for best artist at the 2019 Venice Biennale for his film “The White Album”.  He is currently working on a project that is a feature film that focuses on how black music has greatly influenced American culture.

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