Morgan Meis in The Easel:
Early in 2016, not long after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, an artist named Arthur Jafa screened a work of video art at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York City. The video was titled Love is the message, the message is death. It is about seven minutes long. It is constructed of found footage ranging in time from the immediate present to shaky clips from the early days of film. Most of the clips are just a couple of seconds long. Generally, they feature Black people, African Americans in specific. Much of the footage is upsetting. That’s to say, there are clips of police brutality against Black people. These clips are interspersed with other images not obviously related to the specific issue of police mistreatment of African Americans. The entire video is set to the music of Kanye West’s gospel-ish song Ultralight Beam.
The video piece was extremely popular, and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise noted that the gallery was especially busy during the run of the show. Many of the viewers of Love is the message spoke about its direct, emotional impact. Basically, it made people cry. That fact alone is worth noting. It is not often that one goes to a gallery of contemporary art and feels so emotionally impacted that the tears flow. Indeed, so many people cried watching Love is the message that the artwork started to become something of a global phenomenon. Museums and galleries all around the world wanted a piece of it. Interviewers and journalists wanted a piece of Arthur Jafa.