Artist Arthur Jafa Directed Kanye West’s Searing New Music Video

Alex Greenberger


June 30, 2020 10:22am

Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANDREA MEROLA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10234604b) US artist Arthur Jafa holds the Golden Lion award for best artist during the awarding ceremony of the 58th International Art Exhibition of the Biennale in Venice, Italy, 11 May 2019. The art event runs from 11 May to 24 November 2019. 58th International Art Exhibition of the Biennale in Venice, Italy – 11 May 2019

Just two days after 13 art institutions around the world banded together to host a stream of his acclaimed video Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death, artist Arthur Jafa has given us a new work. But that new video was premiered not through an art space, but via rapper Kanye West, whose song “Ultralight Beam” acts as the soundtrack for Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death.

On Tuesday, as part of an initiative called #WESTDAYEVER that involves the unveiling of various projects in the pipeline for the rapper, West revealed Jafa’s music video for the song “Wash Us in the Blood,” which appears on the rapper’s forthcoming album God’s Country. The music video had been the subject of much speculation among West fans over the past month after Jafa revealed in a talk with fashion designer Michèle Lamy that he was “really busy” at work on something with the rapper.

The music video is similar in style to Jafa’s Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death (2016). The new video primarily features appropriated footage ranging in subject matter from altercations between Black protesters and police offers to imagery lifted from video games. At one point, a computer-generated ring-like form structure is shown, along with the phrase “BLACK DEATH”—a theme only underscored by appropriated shots of Black men and women hyperventilating in hospital-like settings. At various points, newly shot images of West, appearing to be sheathed in digitally rendered oil, are juxtaposed with the found video material.

This is the first new song by West, who has provoked controversy because of his comments on slavery and Donald Trump, since he released the album Jesus Is King last year.

Jafa’s Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death has been highly praised in both the art world and beyond. Last year, the video, which features a range of mostly appropriated images ranging from the killing of Black men and women by police officers to footage from films like Cloverfield, ranked at #1 on an ARTnews survey of the best works of the 2010s. Speaking to ARTnews in 2018, Jafa said he ended up using West’s song mainly through improvisation, after seeing the rapper perform on Saturday Night Live in 2016.

The artist has worked as a cinematographer in the past, having served as the director of photography for Julie Dash’s trailblazing film Daughters of the Dust, and he has also previously shot music videos for Solange, Jay Z, and others.

Jafa’s latest video can be seen below.


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