Artist Arthur Jafa’s Renowned “Love is the Message, The Message is Death” To Be Streamed Continuously Online for the First Time, June 26–28

Co-Presented by the Hirshhorn Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum
June 24, 2020
News Release
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Video still of Martin Luther King with Getty Images superimposed

Courtesy of Arthur Jafa and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in consultation with the artist Arthur Jafa, have joined together to stream Jafa’s artwork “Love is the Message, The Message is Death” (2016) continuously for 48 hours at and beginning at 2 p.m. ET Friday, June 26. This event is the first time the artist has authorized showing the video outside of a museum or gallery setting. 

“I am thrilled for the opportunity, finally, to have as many people as possible see ‘Love is the Message, The Message is Death,’” Jafa said.

Joining the Hirshhorn and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in presenting the work online are 11 art museums and private collections in seven countries. This global consortium will make the seven-and-a-half-minute artwork simultaneously accessible on their websites. Each participating museum and collection holds an edition of the artwork. In the current moment, the artist and many holders of this artwork agreed it should be accessible beyond museum walls and to people around the world who might not otherwise encounter it. 

“Love is the Message, The Message is Death” offers a powerfully moving montage of original and appropriated footage, set to Kanye West’s gospel-inflected song “Ultralight Beam,” which explores the mix of joy and pain, transcendence and tragedy that characterize the Black American experience. Extolled by The New Yorker as “required viewing,” the film points to the ongoing violence and racism against Black people that is foundational to U.S. history and continues to play out in the present. It also shows how Black Americans have taken these experiences and created cultural, political and aesthetic achievements that are intrinsic to the national identity. 

Displayed at the Hirshhorn in the 2017 exhibition “The Message: New Media Works,” Jafa’s video was acquired jointly by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Hirshhorn in 2018. 

“Together with SAAM, we commit to making one of the critical works of our time radically accessible while Smithsonian doors are closed,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “Our mission is to create meaning and context through the display and preservation of art of our time. With this comes social responsibilities. We grieve with the families and communities who are subject to ongoing injustices, racism and brutality. Every Black life matters. It is Arthur Jafa’s intention that his work be shared across the world.” 

“The Smithsonian American Art Museum, along with the Hirshhorn as part of the national collections of the Smithsonian, believes it is necessary to acknowledge the ongoing violence and racial inequality faced by Black Americans,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Learning from Arthur Jafa’s powerful artwork is one way to do so. We acknowledge that sharing art is not enough to effect social change. At the same time, we believe artists’ insights into complex histories and lived experiences are meaningful and motivating.” 

Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III issued a powerful statement about racial injustice in the U.S. May 31. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Hirshhorn have each built on these statements, which are also available online.  

Two roundtable panel discussions convened by the artist will take place Saturday, June 27, at 2 p.m. ET and Sunday, June 28, at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday’s panel may include Peter L’Official, assistant professor of literature at Bard College; Josh Begley, artist; Elleza Kelley, writer and doctoral candidate at Columbia University; and Thomas Lax, curator of media and performance at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Participants Sunday may include Aria Dean, artist and assistant curator of net art and digital culture at Rhizome; Rashaad Newsome, artist; Isis Pickens, First Lady of Los Angeles’ Zion Hill Baptist Church; and Simone White, poet and assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. Both panels are moderated by Tina Campt, the Owen F. Walker Professor of Humanities and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University.

The global consortium of participating museums and private collections include the Dallas Museum of Art; Glenstone Museum; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Studio Museum in Harlem; Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin; Luma Arles in France and Luma Westbau in Zürich; Palazzo Grassi—Punta della Dogana—Pinault Collection; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; and the Tate in London.

About the Artist

Arthur Jafa (b. 1960, Tupelo, Mississippi) is an artist, filmmaker and cinematographer. Across three decades, Jafa has developed a dynamic practice comprising films, artefacts 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 U.S. culture? 

Jafa’s films have garnered acclaim at the Los Angeles, New York and Black Star Film Festivals, and his artwork is represented in celebrated collections worldwide, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, Tate, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, LUMA Foundation, the Pérez Art Museum Miami, The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among many others. 

Jafa has recent and forthcoming exhibitions of his work at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Fundação de Serralves, Porto; the 22nd Biennale of Sydney; and the Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark. In 2019, he received the Golden Lion for the Best Participant of the 58th Venice Biennale “May You Live in Interesting Times.” 

About the Hirshhorn 

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all. For more information, visit Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery 

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the most significant and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The collection includes extraordinary artworks by African Americans, an initiative that began in the 1960s and now includes works that span four centuries of creative expression in various media, including painting, sculpture, textiles and photography. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. Admission is free. Follow the museum on TwitterYouTubeInstagram and Facebook. Website:

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