News / Film

Arthur Jafa wins €75,000 PIAC art prize for film tracing African American history

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Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016)
Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome © Arthur Jafa, 2019

In its 47th year, the Prix International d’Art Contemporain is one of the art world’s loftiest and richest prizes, and this year goes to US artist Arthur Jafa for his film Love is the Message, The Message is Death. The seven-minute video art piece shows a quick-fire montage of archival and contemporary footage charting African American history to the soundtrack of Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam, from clips of Biggie Smalls rapping on the streets aged 17 to Barack Obama singing Amazing Grace at the memorial for the Charleston mass shooting victims. These images are interspersed with Jafa’s own personal footage, for example, his daughter’s wedding.

The film was nominated for the prize by South African curator Tumelo Mosaka, who commented in a statement that the film “traces the representation of black identity through a spectrum of largely popular images. From violent protests against police brutality in the United States, to bodies celebrating on streets as a testament about media representations of blackness. This work captures how black existence has endured attempts of injustice and exclusion.”

The Prix International d’Art Contemporain was first awarded in 1965, and since 1983 has been run by arts and cultural organisation the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco. The PIAC is awarded every three years, as the foundation awards annual prizes to literature, music and arts on a three-year cycle.

Winning the prize, says PIAC artistic director Lorenzo Fusi, “positions Arthur Jafa at the forefront of artistic research and experimentation,” citing him as a “contemporary master”. Jafa will develop his new commission over the course of the next two years.

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Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016)
Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome © Arthur Jafa, 2019

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Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016)
Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome © Arthur Jafa, 2019

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Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016)
Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome © Arthur Jafa, 2019

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Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016)
Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome © Arthur Jafa, 2019

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Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016)
Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome © Arthur Jafa, 2019

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Arthur Jafa; photo by Robert Hamacher.
Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome.