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 US 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 Atlanta, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, The Stedelijk, LUMA Foundation, The Perez Art Museum Miami, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, The 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 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”.
Produced by Patrice Worthy and Farrah Rahaman
Edited by David Adams.
Engineered by Mike Mehalick.
Music supervisor: Rashid Zakat.
- Theme song composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams.
- Additional music in this episode: “Rebirth” by æon.
Show notes written by Irit Reinheimer
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) describes double consciousness, experienced by Black Americans, as “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” He first wrote about the concept in the Atlantic Magazine in 1897.
Paul R. Williams (1894-1980)
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Killer of Sheep (directed by Charles Burnett, 1978)
Daughters of the Dust (directed by Julie Dash, 1991)
Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
The Bluest Eye (written by Toni Morrison, 1970)
Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death (directed by Arthur Jafa, 2016)
My Black Death (written by Arthur Jafa, 2015)
akingdoncomethas (directed by Arthur Jafa, 2018)
The End of White Supremacy, An American Romance (Saidiya Hartman, Bomb Magazine, June 5, 2020)
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:00:02):
You are listening to Many Lumens, where we talk about and find meaning in the intersections of art, social change and popular culture. I’m your host Maori Karmael Holmes. In this conversation, I am joined by the filmmaker and artist, Arthur Jafa. We talk about freedom. Collective action as counterculture, the black cinematic trajectory and the importance of geography informing our pictorial and musical traditions. Welcome AJ to our new podcast, Many Lumens. In preparation for this interview I was, I don’t know if you remember when we did an interview in 2014 back when we thought we were going to launch a podcast that didn’t have a name and so much has changed, but I really appreciate that you were able to connect for this one. The first question I wanted to ask you is how did your parents settle on your name and where does Jaffa come?
Arthur Jafa (00:01:08):
Haha, how did they settle on my name? Well, I’m a third. I’m the third. My son is the fourth. Uh, Jafa is actually truth be told my middle name, uh, everybody, uh, call my grandfather, my father’s father, Jafa, just, you know, that’s just what everybody knew him as Jafa. I’m not, you know, I’m not really sure per se. Uh, I mean, I looked into it in the past. I’ve been told two things I’ve been told its Arabic, and I’ve also been told this Jewish. Jafa oranges say for example, which is spelled JAFA. Yeah, exactly. But there’s also a, um, a J a f a, sometimes it’s spelled J a F a I, which means the crows of Arabia. And these were like the black sons and daughters of Arabic, uh, traders, I guess, who had taken, uh, African women as wives, you know, Subsaharan African women as wives. And they sort of had these mixed race kids who were very dark, you know, by comparison to Arabic folks. So, um, so, you know, so I don’t know, I hadn’t, I didn’t really pursue it, you know, like so super intensely. Um, but, um, yeah, so I’m not sure, you know, it was always my grandfather’s name. People often pronounce it as Arthur Jaaafa and it’s not Jaaafa it’s JAFA, but I would say it’s sort of stuff and people have a certain point, but it’s definitely a, but with a hard “A”.
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:02:45):
Yeah. And so you don’t know where he got the name from either. And was it his given name or was it like a, a nickname?
Arthur Jafa (00:02:52):
No, no, no. It was his given name. So, you know, but I’m not sure that, you know, um, yeah, I, I have to say, but like a lot of people from Mississippi, you know, there’s some native American stuff. I think, you know, this is like the mythic. Yeah. My grandmother never the grandpa, my grandmother. I do think my grandfather’s mom was had a native American is what I heard. But you know what I mean? You hear that all the time.
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:03:36):
Yeah, no, I appreciate that. I always like to ask because I find names so instructive and for any people, but especially for, uh, black Americans. Right. Because it’s, it says so much about place and, uh, agency and, and many other things. So, um, yeah.
Arthur Jafa (00:03:52):
Yeah. It’s the whole intentionality thing around choosing your name, which is a big African-American trope, of course. So there’s that, that, that part of the intentionality of it, but by the same token, you know, people have these names that don’t seem to be connected beyond some sort of myth, which is that, you know, that’s real, to me, I think understandings of what we came for them, I think are just as legitimate as, you know, whatever, some sort of genetic test or something like that, you know what I mean? But I always felt like my name is a little of both, you know, cause I was born with it, but you know, there is a level of intentionality around, you know, you know, using it as by name of sort of used it pretty much since I was, you know, in adults,
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:04:39):
What or whom gave you permission to consider yourself an artist?
Arthur Jafa (00:04:44):
Uh, I’ve known when people ask me what I do sometimes I typically say, uh, will be artists, I guess, or so-called artists. You know, I’m very ambivalent about the term. I mean, on one hand, super matter of fact, cause my vocation at this point, but you know, in the capital a artists, I don’t know, you know, I’m so ambivalent about so much in the bag that’s attached to being an artist, you know, um, you know, there’s two artists, there’s the artists, mainly anybody who does anything with any sort of, you know, artfulness or expertise, you know what I mean? So you could be, you know, uh, uh, you know, uh, swimming guard and be an artist, you know what I mean? Like starting to be an artist, but, um, but there’s the, no, the captain say artists, which is like, meaning a by an artist, you know, not a person who aspires to the state of the status of their artists, but so, you know, the whole fine artist thing is, you know, I’m, I’m a little ambivalent about it just because, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m just interested in things I’m interested in a lot of different kinds of things I’m particularly interested in, in an expressor things or, uh, conceptual things.
Arthur Jafa (00:05:58):
Uh, I think black people, weren’t things off sometimes refer to myself as a thing, you know? Um, and some, you know, as a black American, as a black person, I feel like there because we were not human being so to speak, you know, we’re having several hundred years, um, in the context of the agenda to us, like, you know, we all have a kind of, I think a really complicated relationship. I mean, we don’t, you know, in this sort of with, you know, constructional formulation of subjects and objects, I think would have a bit of neither, you know, comfortably, neither. So, um, we exist in this quasi relationship between the plastic subject and the classic object. So Matt, thanks so much, uh, uh, the sort of way our psyches are configured oriented, you know, is no side effect of that. You know, everything from Dubois is double consciousness to, as I like to say trouble consciousness. Cause I think it’s, you know what I mean? It’s, it’s triplet and quadruplet and everything else. And so sometimes we operate with a certain kind of almost stereoscopic cognition just because, you know, just like any sort of by not view it’s, uh, it gives you depth perception. So I like to be like cognitively, you know, a big part of the way black people process the world is a consequence of being situated in two spaces, cognitively, simultaneously, and how that creates a certain kind of depth perception. You know,
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:07:44):
That’s really great. I’m going to quote you on the trouble consciousness moving forward. I have a question for you. Believe it or not, that is saying that I gather a lot of your eventual works are derived from your obsessions and, um, perhaps becoming fixated on a thing. And so my question was, would you agree, um, but I appreciate you, um, thinking about, I don’t even want to say objectivity because this isn’t exactly that, but it’s really subjugation and that’s not really a question I just wanted to share that.
Arthur Jafa (00:08:18):
Yeah. I mean, you know, obsessions is like, you know, I guess an obsession, you know, when, as a sort of internal compulsion to be focused on, you know what I mean? Cause you know, you have, I mean, everybody focuses on things. It’s hard to be successful at anything if you don’t don’t have the ability to focus on it, but I guess it’s called an obsession and it doesn’t seem, it seems to be untethered from any sort of external verification next external, um, you know, just certification. But I don’t even know if that’s true. Like if you think of a person then obsessed with somebody else, it’s totally external, you know, but I guess you would say it’s an obsession if the person wasn’t reciprocating, you know what I mean? So in that way, there’s a sort of internal dimension, the internal internal drive around this thing, but I don’t want anybody who was like really good at anything, whether it’s Prince or Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan or LeBron who doesn’t exhibit of their pronounced degree of obsession with what would they do? You know?
Arthur Jafa (00:09:36):
So yeah, but assessment is like a given, I mean just like, I think conceptualization is a given of black folks, you know, I was just telling somebody the other day they were asking me, Oh, do you see yourself as a conceptual artist? And I was like, yeah, particularly, because for so long, all the things that I sort of was envisioning or creating, so to speak William material because it was just in my head. I mean, I think anybody who knows me has heard me, you know what I mean, spiral, I don’t on some movie I want to make or something like that. And it’s just, you know, they would just add demons for so long. And I think, you know, if you’re in slaves and you imagine a set as a human being, that’s a conceptual project first and foremost. And you know, in the absence of being able to fully implement it, you know what I mean?
Arthur Jafa (00:10:24):
Like once humanity or certain ones, citizenship, uh one’s uh, uh, you know, inalienable rights, it was largely conceptual project. And I think, you know, black folks, I think it’s one of the defining characteristics of like, like being, it’s like this sort of split of schism between how we understand ourselves and how the world understands us. You know, it’s a radical schism between and has been for several hundred years. So, um, you know, and like increasingly, or have often, you know, voice that I feel like black folks, you know, almost like a kinda Canarian am I in HSA with regard to it, like, you know, Western civilization and stuff. Like, I think a lot of the things that are becoming, uh, emblematic of the, this time, you know what I mean, like migrant crisis, uh, you know, just solution of, you know, traditional family structure. I was kind of sub these are all the things that worked for only two components of black bang.
Arthur Jafa (00:11:31):
You know, I mean that moment, that mythic or ontological moment in which African people ceased being just African people and became black because they weren’t black people when they first got here. You know what I mean? So at some point African people, you know, an African woman gave birth to a black child and it was a real thing, you know? So like these components and these things that are part and parcel, uh, are sort of like, they’re not software for us, they’re hardware for us, a firmware, these things, which are, um, you know, like fundamental like givens or black bean, you know, are increasingly becoming, you know, givens for like many, many, many people in the world. You know? So in a way I think, you know, there’s a kind of, um, almost paradoxical way in which like beings, you know, in the face of anti-blackness, uh, both the sort of, you know, emblems of a certain kind of objection, you know, uh, which are there, all this kind of stuff, but at the same time, paradoxically, some sort of, um, emblem of, um, you know, a little continuous, some, some kind of almost preternatural resistance to that saying, you know, anti-blackness, and it’s almost like people see black people’s ability to not just survive, but thrive in so many different kinds of ways.
Arthur Jafa (00:13:08):
And in the sense, because we’re further along the path of these, you know, some maladies of Western civilization, I think, you know, we give people hope, but we, you know, provide, or at least suggest certain kinds of paradigms, certain kinds of possibilities to how you navigate these things. Um, you know, I think it’s the basis of why everybody is interested in black music because black music being sort of down express the modality of black folks is saturated with these very things. So I think, you know, everybody can feel that they can feel in the music that the music is grounded and saturated with, you know, this abjection, and, but by the same token, they see that we made something up, you know, so I think beyond, you know, like the sort of quote unquote Sonic, uh, musical genius of it, you know what I mean? There’s this sort of, um, existential dimension of it, you know, black music that I think is inherently, uh, mesmerizing to folks.
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:14:25):
How did you make a transition from wanting to be an architect tint to filmmaking?
Arthur Jafa (00:14:32):
Um, how did I make the transition now? They’re 6 cents. I remember distinctly telling my dad, I think towards my junior year, I’d rather be a builder. Uh, I couldn’t like, it was very hard for me to sort of grass a trajectory that was non Lammy, where I wanted to land as architect. I’ve always loved architecture. You’re not playing the Lincoln logs and Lego blocks from when I was cutting Valley speak, you know, and I just had always wanted to be an architect, but, and it’s still my first love, you know? Um, but, uh, it’s very, you know, outside of the film, maybe even more sun than film is the most capital intensive, uh, art form, if you want to call them in our form. Um, uh, and not just that it’s capital intensive, but it is also so, um, just to say fundamentally again, material, and soon as you get up into space and materiality has certain kind of, you know, concrete materiality, and that’s always going to be like, come work a lot of, um, uh, problematics when it comes to black books.
Arthur Jafa (00:15:52):
And it just really comes down to, uh, you know, the fact that, again, like I was saying earlier about subjects and objects, you know, objects typically understood as being somewhat more material, uh, fundamentally material than subjects. You know what I mean? So to speak. So, you know, all the sort of expressing modalities that we arrived in the Americas with, you know, all our traditions, you know, expressive traditions, whether they be like musical or, you know, all the sculpture and all those things. I mean, material express CBT might be one of the few things in Africa that is as diverse and this complicated as, you know, musical express and for less, because of the material nature that expressive, uh, was eroded, eroded and, you know, was under developed in the context of the Americas. So the architecture thing, you know, it’s fundamentally bound up that material is about predicts and Mada and, you know, putting in space, you know, in a way that it’s not a fugitive, it’s not Phantom, you know, it’s not spectral, it’s real.
Arthur Jafa (00:17:10):
And it’s, you know, by literally concrete. So, you know, it was just like complicated for me. I just had a certain point, the architects that I had in mind, you know, you didn’t have to dig that deeply to see the, in most instances they were products of, you know, uh, wealthy backgrounds. Um, mostly, almost most of the ANSYS is, you know, their first sort of commissions were commissions, uh, family members, you know what I mean, who could afford to, you know, give a son or daughter, you know, a certain amount of mind and you make something, you know what I mean? It’s just like, it’s so typical. It’s like one of the central tropes. And so, you know, it’s very unusual for architects to be women, to be people of color. Now, of course know, I say that same token, there are of course thousands, you know, but I mean, like relatively speaking, it’s something that you don’t, you don’t see, like, so often, you know, outside of, you know, David IJ and, you know, I think a max bond, I think a Paul Williams, you know what I mean?
Arthur Jafa (00:18:25):
But it’s like, it may be one of the few bills where there’s more a development than like, you know, cinema for black folks, you know, but I do think most of it, you know, in both instances, the whole kind of material, which then becomes the capital nature of endeavor, you know, is largely responsible for, you know, sort of in a relative on the development of it. So it’s the material thing. And so that goes back to like, you know, how come black, I like to say not black visual culture because of black pictorial culture, sculptural culture is like, you know, so behind musical, um, culture and stuff is very simple. I’ve said it a thousand times, I’ve said it once, which is the, you know, you didn’t care if the music on your nervous system, you know, honestly you ship on a chain gang on a plantation in the cotton field, you know, but you can’t carry a sculpture, you know, in those spaces.
Arthur Jafa (00:19:30):
Um, so, you know, so as a consequence, you know, we came here with rich traditions, material express safety, and it’s not to say that there’s no sort of remnants or that I don’t know, you know, practitioners particularly in the South, you know, I think, uh, in black communities, but by and large is relatively speaking, you know, under the belt or is Cornell West a parent produced a lot of consternation amongst, you know, but, um, you know, black artists at the time, but, but I think he was kind of on to something because he basically went on to say that he felt the reason that that was, was because, you know, the black church was the only institution that black people had and the black church man, the Protestant church had a fundamental problematic, you know, where even images or image, bank, period, unlike Catholic church, you know?
Arthur Jafa (00:20:28):
So if you look at places where black people found themselves in the West that had a Catholic, you know, a Catholic societies, Brazil, Haiti, you know, you know, you can think of different places. Those are the places where they, you know, visual traditions that parallel or in accord with that musical traditions. But if he goes to places where the churches were Protestant, like in most of black America, there’s no, you know, there was, there was no sort of a proclivity and there was no subsidy there. Whereas, you know, black song, black dancing, black oratorical stuff, the black church provided a platform and subsidy, you know, but not, not sat the reason why I didn’t exist, but it’s one of the reasons why the support wasn’t there, you know,
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:21:29):
That’s interesting. I had not thought about the church basis, but I’m curious in your own research, have you, or just even observations, have you noticed that there is a more defined pictorial culture amongst the Catholic, uh, new world folks? You know what I mean? Like, do you feel like
Arthur Jafa (00:21:50):
It’s not, it’s like, it’s just empirically true. I think it’s no accident that basket’s parents were Puerto Rican and Haitian, you know, I don’t think that’s, it doesn’t explain everything about who he was, but I don’t think it’s, it’s not some consequence. I think of some significance, you know, Rico’s Catholic, so let’s, Hey, so yeah, I don’t think the sacks, you know, so
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:22:20):
Something else that you’ve talked a lot about, but just, I think for this interview, you grew up in Mississippi and you’ve talked about Tupelo and Clarksdale and the state overall being ground zero for black American and thus American culture. And I’m wondering how you feel that in your own practice, like how did growing up in those environments shape how you approach your work?
Arthur Jafa (00:22:44):
I mean, that’s the ongoing question. It’s like, it’s an undeniable, like, you know, central preoccupation, but it is, um, it’s not static, you know what I mean? It’s like dynamic because particularly as I get older, my relationship to things that I experienced or the way I understand Mississippi or South or, um, class, uh, poverty and, and development in general and spirituality to, I guess, um, or metaphysics, which I guess not the same thing as spirituality, but metaphysics those things all, you know, all constantly evolving. So my relationship to Mississippi is evolving as well, but, but it is true that my background as a southerner has had, and then Dale determinant, you know, not just in Dallas, but pretty determinant, um, impact on my preoccupations, my interests, the way I approached those interests, the way I think about those interests. Yeah. You know, like I said, it’s just like ongoing.
Arthur Jafa (00:23:58):
It’s not, it’s not something that’s fixed, you know, the way I think about Mississippi mass differently even 10 years ago. I mean, there is a certain aspect to my own trajectory as a artist, you know, you were saying earlier, like how did I come to be a practitioner in the sort of fine arts realm, I guess, but I’ve had people ask me that, or various talks, you know, I’ve had young black filmmakers ask me, you know, you seem to have sort of chosen the fine arts contexts over the phone context, you know, and I always laugh because, you know, I say, no, I didn’t, I didn’t choose the artwork or kind of chose me, kind of knows. You know, it’s not like I didn’t even have a history in our world, but it was a hit, it was a history or a kind of endeavor that I had sort of abandoned, you know, easily, like 20 years before that time.
Arthur Jafa (00:24:58):
I didn’t mostly, I just didn’t like the context, honestly, you know, I found it to be relative to the film thing, as sad as that was, you know, and underdeveloped as that was, I didn’t, I never felt alienated, you know, in the context of the black film community. And then, you know, it just, uh, it produced a lot of, uh, well, just pleasure and let’s just call it bedroom. I wouldn’t even call it anxiety so much as just, no, it was just a lot of, um, spin and on an amount of energy, thinking about myself in relationship to the context, not even like the word, you know, and, you know, it’s funny, like I was invited to be on this panel for the trustees, um, museum of modern art. They have three artists on this panel. Uh, they went LA apparently moves around LA maybe three years ago, three, four years ago.
Arthur Jafa (00:25:58):
And you know, and they were asking me these questions and at a certain point, I was just like, y’all kill basket. You know what I mean, taking a bag, but I was just like, you know, the work wasn’t any problem, cause that’s not what killed and what killed them was all the kinds of areas, pressures that sorta were exerted on him as a, you know, as a black man in that context and jeans though, he was, you know, he was, um, he wasn’t equipped to sort of, um, uh, circumnavigate it or survive. It certainly. I mean, that’s at this point, um, know I used to say like with Greg, sometimes he bought a ticket on the train. He couldn’t get off, you know, and he knew kind of what it was, but, you know, I remember him saying like, I want to be the Charlie Parker or the Jimmy Hendrix of the art world.
Arthur Jafa (00:27:01):
And I just spoke those guys Valley, you know, may 30 by Jimmy didn’t make 30. So, you know, genius. So he’s swallowed a kind of I’m in the wrong pill, you know what I mean? The paradigm. And I said, it was like, you know, it was a one-way ticket to the way ended up, you know, and he couldn’t get off. And it’s funny because I can remember back in 81, 82, it was impossible if, you know, I was no musician or anything like that, you know, so hip hop and all that stuff was happening, but no Bosco was happening. It was happening to a person who had any sort of visual, uh, proclivities as a black person. It was exciting, you know, and, you know, it just seemed like a lot was possible at the time, you know, that always had an interest, you know, in art, so to speak, you know, since I was a kid as well.
Arthur Jafa (00:28:09):
And, uh, you know, and I think not the Glen, myself, Michelle, but we were very, you know, I think it’s a generational thing. Like literally like four days apart, I think I’m November the 30th, 1969, like December 1st week December, but you know, not even a week apart. So the things that he was preoccupied with it, I just think just went with the territory of being a young black man who was, you know, engender at a particular moment in history, you know, so to have felt, you know, segregated America, but, um, I mean old enough to have Phil segregated America, but young enough for it to be something in the rear view mirror in a way, uh, remember, you know, saying it loud, I’m black and I’m proud, um, you know, on the radio and understanding that that was a new formulation and the context of pop culture, you know what I mean?
Arthur Jafa (00:29:18):
It wasn’t just, you know, just some, somebody who was saying things like that, black people on television, you know, Julia, you know, black people being in color and things like that. Aren’t, you know, vaguely and then also grow up in Mississippi too, at the same time that you were experienced in those things, you know, sort of the jokes in the past, you know, the Delta in particular in Mississippi is to say it’s a black American dress and park, you know, so like on a cultural level, it’s just was a very intense and rich and, uh, scary, you know, in many ways it’s like context to grow up, um, you know, an inherently like traumatic kind environment, you know, I think I’m still working through, like I say, I could say about black folks, it’s like, will perpetually in post trauma. You know, it’s not like something that happened six years ago, you know, you’re having flashbacks. It’s like, it’s like having flashbacks while you’re still in Vietnam about being in Vietnam, you know, so, right. So you know, that central consciousness that I was talking about, uh, you know, it’s sort of under girds, everything that, you know, um, preoccupied with and not just what I’m preoccupied with behind preoccupied with it, I think. And, uh, um, uh, it’s interesting. It’s interesting.
Arthur Jafa (00:31:09):
I mean, it’s interesting, you know, um, the things about it that I absolutely love. I love the fact that by and large, and I understand this may not be typical math experiences that I’ve had, but I don’t have to convince people, but what I want to do, you know, was the whole thing and found is convincing people a script. So you can convince people, you know what I mean, what you want to do, you know, merits the financial support and capital that’s required to do it. You know, you spend an inordinate amount of time, not only trying to convince people what you wanna do, but trying to convince people that what you want to do is legitimate. You know what I mean? So it’s not just, I want to make a film about, you know, I don’t know, black fishermen in San Diego, 1840s or something like that.
Arthur Jafa (00:32:10):
It’s not even just that like, okay, this is my dad too. And it’s going to be interested in there too. There’s also like you got to convince people that on one hand that is commercially has commercial potential. But beyond that, it’s just also that it’s a legitimate thing to make about black people. You know what I mean? Like, you don’t want to get involved in anything that’s on calls and then confusion, you know, and stuff like that. So, but in the art world, I have to say for myself, I’m just, um, no, I didn’t say bad joke, but he used to always say the thing about the film context is like, you know, you always ask them permission to do certain things. And, uh, and I say, you know, it’s always the case. It’s a little bit like, you know, if you have to ask somebody for permission to have a baby, the answer’s always going to be, yes.
Arthur Jafa (00:32:58):
You know, if you me and it’s kinda like, so you end up with this thing, this is a product of your desires, but it’s somewhat misbegotten because it’s bound up with, you know, cath and cows culture. You know what I mean? Like having to pay off no pay, which your flesh, you know, can do the thing that you want to do. And the thing is always, in some ways, compromise by his inability to autonomously come into being, and, uh, the art world troubled though, it may be in many ways. I haven’t really had a whole bunch of extra. I mean, even from like, as far back in 2000, when I did the show, the first art show I’d ever done was, you know, artists selects that are artists space. Nobody telling me what to do. I did. One-on-one the only advice I even got from Kiki selecting me was that just take up as much space as you can.
Arthur Jafa (00:34:00):
And when she first said, I was like, you may not populate because it was a three person show I should just populate. And she was like, nah, I don’t mean it like that. She said, I just mean like, those start off narrow. Like if you’re interested in painting, if you’re interested in sculpture and interested in performance, they’ll just show a video because that’s what you do, show whatever you want to show. Like, don’t start off so narrow because what tends to happen is if you start out narrow, then you try to slide into another space. Then there’s a lot of resistance where for better, for worse, if you start off, as, you know, as broadly as your interests are, then there’s no, you don’t have to re maneuver. You know, that can happen. Sometimes it’s happening a little bit at times with me around the whole video thing, you know what I mean?
Arthur Jafa (00:34:46):
But, um, but nobody’s telling me what to do. So it doesn’t matter because I don’t have to do, I do video art because I like doing it. You know what I mean? I’m not doing it because any sort of pressure is being put on me to do that. As a matter of fact, there’s a certain way in which people seem pleasantly surprised that I have all these interests that, you know, supersede like moving image work, you know? And, um, and I don’t even really, honestly don’t even see that as a split personally, but I get it, you know, it’s a different kind of thing, but, you know, I just liked the fact that I don’t have to, um, convince anybody what I want to just do it. And like having the child, people take the reliever, you see the for them, or it’s not for them. It’s not for him. They just keep stepping out here, you know, like fine artists or, you know, artists in the visual arts realm.
Arthur Jafa (00:35:46):
They’re all means of production. You know what I mean? It’s not like whatever it is they do, whether it’s make a painting or sculpture video, it can too, it tends to be a given that they control the means of production or producing that thing that they’ve already been producing that might bring them to somebody’s attention in the first place. It’s not like they’re coming to somebody and say, I got this idea. I need X amount of money to do it. You know what I mean? They kind of have done something, even if it’s not, uh, something that says elaborative as maybe what they might imagine, you know, it’s like, it’s the work, the work proceeds, not a script, not a proposal, not a, you know, a sort of description of what they want to do. It’s like the thinking itself kind of proceeds the person, you know, and I liked that, you know, it’s like, you know, I’m always prepared to fight for, you know, things that I may, you know, I just don’t want to have to fight for them before they come into being, you know what I mean? Cause then you ended up paying with this tar baby. You can’t, you can’t, you know, become entangled in a complicated kind of way. So I mean, even in terms of directing a feature film, which is, you know, in the docks for me and the next year, I just, um, you know, two, three years ago, like people, like, what do you want to do?
Arthur Jafa (00:37:08):
And most, I think I was busy, but beyond that, I just realized that I enjoy what I was doing and I enjoyed the freedom of it, but also realize that I wasn’t in any rush to make a movie. And that the terms were more important to me than like how much quote, unquote money I was going to make or something like that. Cause I just don’t need the money. I don’t, I mean, it’s just the reality. I just don’t need that. I don’t make my living over there. So I’m not going to make a movie after this much time awaiting. That’s not exactly what I want to do. And with the terms that I want, you know, just like so burning up to make a feature film that I’m going to make, you know, make it under circumstances that aren’t pretty much ideal, you know, realistic, aren’t realistic.
Arthur Jafa (00:37:57):
It kind of doesn’t matter. You know, it’s like even when I’ve spoken to produce substances or I just make it really clear from the beginning that like, I just want to do what I want to do and it’s not about money, you know? So that scares off about 95%, but you know, but I guess I’m just kind of, um, I’m very comfortable with where I’m at right now, you know, because I’m working in my own flow and my own, you know, in pursuit of my own bliss, I’m not, I don’t have anything to prove. I may have some things to prove to myself, but you know, I mean, the things that I want to do, you know, for people who know me for a long time are bound up with, you know, those kinds of questions. Like what could a black, some acts should be. It’s not about really making a hit, something like that. Uh, putting any, you know, making a mediocre of a successful movie to put yourself in a position to make another group of successful.
Maori Karmael Holmes (00:38:57):
Yeah. I mean, I wanted to ask you about that because I think that from the very first moment that I’ve seen you speak and subsequently, and then of course at Blackstar early on, and you know, in many, many, many interviews, this idea of pursuing a black cinema or getting black cinema caught up to where black music is. I wonder for you, if you see any shift toward getting closer to that, like, are there, do you feel like the new generation is opening up
Arthur Jafa (00:39:28):
At large? You mean, or you mean for me originally both. I like to think so. I mean, these are very volatile times. Like, are we even going to have movie theaters anymore? You know, nobody really knows what’s happening, but by the same token because of streaming and stuff, there’s more content being produced in ever. And because these are volatile times, chaotic times, you know, it was chaotic, you know, when me too happened and then it’s been chaotic and increasingly, so, you know, around, you know, the persistent, you know, murders of black people by police forces and they need to Kobe, you know, on top of that, you know what I mean? Which kind of is bankrupt into theatrical chains and just throwing everything into question. So there’s a lot of opportunity now, you know, to make things. And um, I mean I’m optimistic, I’m super optimistic because you know, you know, so many things that I sort of have described or, um, you know, thought about it in public are just beyond the realm of hypothetical for me at this stage.
Arthur Jafa (00:40:39):
You know what I mean? Like I’m really actually doing things that I’ve been talking about 30 years, you know, so mean I used to get into this debate with one of my closest associates about this, about talking, you know, you know, and he would say like, I’m just tired of the talking like we gotta do. But the thing is talking is doing as well. It’s not like doing like, you know, pointing a camera at something doing, but it’s just a different kind of doing, and I’m not sure it’s, that means it’s less powerful. I’m not sure of that. As a matter of fact, I would say that something like emancipatory about, you know, I’m thinking the wheel Alexander’s book, black speech and the angel, you know, something like that. It’s something emancipatory about speaking obviously for black people, because it doesn’t a caution, anything it’s like, we have a, you don’t have to pay it every time you hit a note.
Arthur Jafa (00:41:35):
You know what I mean? On a panel once you got the piano? Well, you know, everybody as a vocal chord, you know, and it’s one of the fundamental things that, that, you know, that came with the black body. So there’s something about sharing one’s visions of what the thing can be. That’s like a legitimate endeavor and incident is something that, you know, most people know me would say part and parcel of who I am, you know, but I do think, you know, by the time I’ve started to feel like you can’t tell anybody anything, you can, you can try to tell people things, but even if people like it, they don’t necessarily get it. Like you have to show people, you know? So I’m not really, you know, as a handful of anybody knows me, knows that I’m quote unquote critique, but like over 30, some 40, almost 40 years career at this point, like I haven’t critiqued bear a million pounds, you know, I’m public.
Arthur Jafa (00:42:39):
I’m not like the person who’s out here trash and like in public for sure. But I also am a person who I think is generally understood is to be somewhat of, um, you know, Heartland around some of these things. You know, I think it’s cool when people make films worthy of applauding for having made. Now, I still think that’s where they were applauding a person, but I think we do ourselves a disservice when we improperly assess or valorize or value certain the majority of the moves that we made. You know what I mean? I mean, I’ve seen it before. Like I think some people out here are winning at winning, but then not winning at cinema, the space that they’re winning, you know what I mean? That’s all right. It’s cool. Look, there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with that. But you know, I don’t know.
Arthur Jafa (00:43:38):
I pick on these guys because they’re really great, but I would just say this Frankie, Beverly and maze, there just ain’t no John Coltrane or no Rita Franklin, I’m sorry. I mean, evidence of how incredible black music is that maybe a six or seven tier band is amazing. Amazing. You know what I mean? But like cinema, you know, there’s a spirit animal to black cinema. We wound that thing when we make these claims, but things that just don’t merit it, you know, just because a black person may, you know, I mean, we should celebrate those things because they were successfully done, you know, as endeavors, which is a thing to celebrate, but not as like people know, like they can go to a party and dance or song and it can be a great thing to dance to, but they all confuse it with, you know, whatever it is, they’re all metrics. So the best of the best is they don’t confuse that with very aristocratic. When it comes to me, I don’t been Socratic in a sense of being Catholic, you know, about it.
Arthur Jafa (00:44:43):
Now we like all kinds of. You know what I mean? And all of it’s not quote unquote serious, but we are very much into the aesthetic power. The thing speaking for itself, you know, asserting itself, it doesn’t matter. You went to an Ivy league school or Julliard or something like that. Or if you just, you know, a person who doesn’t even read music, it doesn’t matter. That, man, all we care about is the thing, you know, is a thing though. You know, sometimes people ask me, where are you going to find? Just say like dope. I want to be dope. And people think like you’re being provocative or evasive or something like that. And it’s like, nah, it’s not. I just want to make dope. You know what I mean? And um, it was cinema. I mean, we made so much dope.
Arthur Jafa (00:45:33):
You know what I mean? That’s just the reality of it. We made a lot of really dope. And if you put the dope things next to the 99% of the we have made, it’s just clearly not in the same Ram of being, you know, it’s just not. And it’s like, I mean, not being able to tell a difference between the two is as much evidence of how underdeveloped black sound culture is as anything, you know, but that state of under development, it’s not just a phase. I almost feel like it’s something that the sort of tension between then on the development and the sort of enormous possibility of it is a signature or central dimension of the complexity of what black cinema is and can be, you know what I mean? The tension between those two things. So, you know, so killer sheet, you know, you can add whatever you want to add.
Arthur Jafa (00:46:26):
It’s just like, you don’t have to, I don’t have to downplay anything else. I’ll just say kill the sheep. You know what I mean? If you get it, you get it. I bought them. I always say you build it knows it. You know what I mean? Don’t feel it. You don’t know it. That’s all right too. That’s cool. But you know, but there are things I hear that black folks have made that operate on a level, I would say, equal to black music. It’s just not sustained for all the obvious structural financial socio-political, you know, reasons. Um, but like, yeah, the work, the work, we, you know, we, we produce masterworks, you know, but you know, like it’s sometimes I use, I know I persisted doing it anyway, but I think, I always think of like Julius, I do it as a dance. I mean, did anybody outside of maybe two or three people make a better debut feature family and Julie dash black filmmaker period, American filmmakers.
Arthur Jafa (00:47:34):
Very few, very few, very, very few. Um, even on his level and the thing about it. And I don’t say that just because I, you know, I was a collaborator. I mean just subjectively, I think it’s true at this point. And um, but the fact of the matter is that’s her baby featured him. Like that’s the first film she made over 40 minutes, long period. I don’t like, I mean, she didn’t do a bunch of television and they get a chance. I mean, that is it. Right. And the thing about it is like, I’ve said this before, it’s like, it’s like Toni Morrison’s first novel. Like the blue side. That’s her blue side. If you take the analogy to have some merit then thought is this is a blue, is what would her assignment Solomon have looked like, but beloved, you know, we can’t, we don’t even know.
Arthur Jafa (00:48:26):
We don’t even know. And Julie’s not like me or some other people I know who was trying to figure it out. She had a stack of scripts ready to go, you know what I mean? So you can’t, it’s like, and that’s not, she’s not unique in that way. There is a phenomena of this sort of masterful one-off that we see amongst black filmmakers who made that amazing first film. And for all the various structural reasons don’t seem to be able to build on it. You know, they don’t seem to be able to follow that and to proceed. I mean like if Tony Morrison and only written the blue is I, I mean, it’s a good book, a great book preps, but you know that Tony Morrison when they had anything to do with the Toni Morrison the hour on the first, you know what I mean?
Arthur Jafa (00:49:17):
Just wouldn’t have been, I don’t know that she will be remembered as being like, so I mean, baby, by the time she get the sewer, but even if you do solar that the input you in the zone of like the one amazing thing, if that’s all she did, you know what I mean? It’d be one amazing thing, but it wouldn’t be like nobody would be out here talking about, you know, she should get a Nobel peace prize, anything, you know, you know, if you take doing this just as a sort of emblematic example of just like Julie still is and has been for 30 years capable of a lot more than she quite literally has been allowed to do. And I don’t mean that because there’s so many things, so many experiences I’ve known Julie for a long time. Like she’s a warrior, you know, I’ve seen her burn bridges, she got black balls at one point. I mean, I’m just for real, just because she refused to acquiesce and I’m, I don’t mean like, I mean, like for real, like for real, I cannot even repeat, you know, I’m not talking about no figurative. I’m talking. People literally tell a and will never direct in Hollywood again, because you know, have a character doing the movie some back with that.
Arthur Jafa (00:50:39):
And it’s like, no, I didn’t come here to do that. I didn’t come here to misrepresent that person. You know what I mean? I feel I’ll tell somebody, I feel like, you know, Roy batty at the end of blade runner, he says little man, the things I’ve seen, you know what I mean? I’ve seen Paul Ryan or something like this. It’s just like, people like to act like this world is different from the world, you know, uh, grew up in and yeah, there’s more opportunities, no doubt about that. But you know, it’s like, I mean, when you see something like, you know, the leaks or the Sony emails and the me too happens, you realize this is like a rape culture. You know what I mean? And all this stuff now police killing black people is not abnormal. That’s normal, that’s normal. And it’s the same thing in terms of like black filmmakers.
Arthur Jafa (00:51:42):
Oh, they, they blocked us. No, that is not fiction. That is not imagined. It’s real. It’s very, very, very real. And it’s not like saying there’s some star chamber out here doing it. That’s just not how I work. Like people think like, you know, if you don’t have like a star chamber and um, and your car can remember some group and stuff that it’s not a conspiracy, you know, but sometimes that’s why it’s called structural racism. You know what I mean? Because the individual folks might not be quote unquote, bad people, whatever that means, you know what I mean? But the way it works. But in addition to that, there’s also people out here who said, yo, you going to do it the way I told you to do it. Like in some, like you would think if you tried to represent it in the movie and we just looked like some over the top, you know what I mean?
Arthur Jafa (00:52:34):
Like Lovecraft County, Kevin. But that is real. It’s real out here. It’s not like it’s not no figment of nobody’s imagination. So, you know, fortunately everything changes, you know, everything changes. So, you know, I’ve seen it in my own life. It’s just the terms and conditions of possibility shift. And then those in those terms, uh, you know, other things become possible. And then, like I said, it’s the thing it’s like when they use the term, they say you decimate people to decimate someone because it’s a group, you can’t decimate an individual. You can only decimate a group. And that just means like, you kill one in 10, you can’t kill everybody. You kill everybody. There’s nobody to do your labor or buy your products. You know what I mean? So you kill one in 10 and it’s a discipline. It’s a disciplining action. It’s an action that’s meant to traumatize and put everybody else in place. But the flip side of that, and this is why these disciplining things are necessary to maintain power and control. Because the flip side of that is when one person supersedes this thing, everybody knows it’s possible. Because like one of the things that we’re convinced when the worst things were convinced, it’s not that this is just the best of possible universes, we’ve been convinced that this is the only possible universe. If you say it’s the best possible, you say this is the best society, that begs the question by what metrics, by what criteria? That’s a very different thing. This is just reality. And this is how it is. That’s a very different thing. So when people, when individuals and groups of face, I love one of the things that Robin Kelly said, I think is one of the most genius like observations that I’ve heard in the last 30 years is like incorrect to call the civil rights movement a mass movement. It was never a mass movement. It was an aggregate movement. It’s the way people are taught to teach it as a mass movement. It disempowers it because it gives the impression that unless 99% of black people agree on something and do it collectively change can’t happen. And that’s just not the truth. You know, like you can just look at the films of like, you know, people being water hose and you know, a tag, my dogs and stuff. They have like more people, black people standing on the sidewalk, watching it happen. Then it’s happening too. That was a small cadre of people effected that change. You know what I mean? Made the sacrifice. Everybody benefited from it. Not just white folks, everybody benefited from it, but it was no mass movement was never a mass movement. You know?
Speaker 3 (00:55:29):
You’re listening to Many Lumens, brought to you by Blackstar. Welcome back. You’re listening to Many Lumens brought to you by Blackstar. I was curious what your observation would be of the uprising. I’ve been calling it, you know, the American spring, but the protest that erupted after George Floyd’s murder and this, I think amplifying of black lives matter in this moment, having lived through the black power moment, how do you S do you see that there is a difference now, particularly related to the art making that is coming out of the moment as well?
Arthur Jafa (00:56:56):
Well, first of all, I was alive. I was a child and I wasn’t a child that no black Panther grew up or nothing like that. You know what I mean? It wasn’t like my parents. I mean, it was certainly like, you know, black Progressive’s, I would say, but not like they weren’t like Tupac’s parents and that’s like that they were no members of no DLA and nothing like that. They would just that generation of black folks without my parents, the teachers, the education matters, you know what I mean? And they took it on themselves to educate the future generations of black folks. I have that played out, you know? So they were the striking, you know, the group of my father was like the president of the student council at Alcorn university when they shut it down and shut the school down, you know? And so that whole, his whole class, some of them graduated from Alcorn because they shut the school down and, you know, they had to go other where the school just stopped for a year.
Arthur Jafa (00:58:00):
So I would never say I lived through the black power moment. It was something I didn’t even become conscious of per se in the sort of precise sense of it as a movement and what its political and ideological parameters were not just sort of got the fall from it. Like, you know, say it loud, I’m black and I’m black and I’m proud. That’s what I know by the time I got the house. And of course I became very aware of what the black arts movement, all these things were, but I didn’t know anything about that or I got the house, you know, so, but like, you know, I’m, you know, I’m no pundit may already, you know, so like, like what’s the difference between then and now I don’t know. You know, I don’t know what the difference is. I think that, um, everything that happened wasn’t because a black person got killed, you know, because black, somebody got killed the week before Georgia, Florida, and the week after George and people have continued to be killed since then, you know what I mean?
Arthur Jafa (00:58:59):
I mean, there’s all going up rising, but you know what I mean? It’s not the explosion that happened while I’m in Georgia. The Georgia is specifically tied to two things and I’m not placing any judgment. I don’t mean to diminish or magnify it, but there are two critical things that I think that very different about that than anything else. So we kind of point to one being of course, is that we saw the live train out of that brothers on the camera is the message, which has black people being killed in it. But you know, like even with Walter Scott in the beginning, when he’s running away, you don’t know that he’s dead. You just see he’s running.
Arthur Jafa (00:59:41):
You know what I mean? You don’t see that he’s no longer breathing or they don’t call the ambulance, you know? But we never seen, like, that was the closest thing to like a straight up lynching. Like when you see like, without sanctuary, when you saw a person’s life drain out, and I’m not saying black people haven’t seen it, but I mean, as far as like, you know, these videos and stuff, nobody seen a person cry for their mama and then that on camera, it just like, there’s no precedent for it. I think white people saw it and looked in the mirror and they could not look away from what they saw in that moment. Like, cause you know, like people would say always like, Oh, some black people, you know, so many white folks say it is so your white people say it. It’s like, Oh, so-and-so got into with a cop.
Arthur Jafa (01:00:34):
They must’ve done something. You know what I mean? It’s this like a reflex. They must have done something. They must’ve not put their hands. They don’t, uh, you know, they were just saying like young people, white folks who confronted their parents, like you see this and their parents that they must’ve done something. It was like, my God, what the do you have to do to have somebody just murder you flow slowly. In fact, shoot you murder you like in real time. And you know, as everybody, you know, this is just a given on Instagram and social media, you know, you got like with guns going out, killing people and they just stop him at McDonald’s and feed him just like, you can’t make this up. You cannot make this up. And so, so that’s one aspect of it. And the other aspect of it is Kobe.
Arthur Jafa (01:01:27):
That’s the aspect of it. I just think there’s a certain part of it is just, people were just like, wow. You know, they were like frustrated with just having sequestering and stuff. And so it became, I think on some level, a rational reason to no longer sequester, you know, I’ll say it is like they put their freedom before their health or something like that, you know? But that’s like, no, it’s just a rationalizations since people have done and continue to do what they think they must, you know, but I just don’t, I don’t know that I necessarily, I mean, I like, I have to be really careful about this because I’m not making any, I’m not attempting to make any sort of judgment of black lives matter or stuff that involve some of which I support some of which I don’t necessarily support it. I don’t necessarily support where they’re going about things.
Maori Karmael Holmes (01:02:29):
Hey Jay, I wasn’t asking you to make an assessment. So I apologize if it came off like that, I’m more so thinking about the cultural and artistic movements that came with it,
Arthur Jafa (01:02:40):
It’s all the same. It’s all the same to me. It’s rocket. Ever-changing saying that this is what we do. We make shit. We try to make shit about the world. Sometimes we make things that resonate for our community. Sometimes we make things that resonate for the community at large, you know, society. Those are not, I don’t, I don’t collapse it to, I don’t, I don’t misunderstand that though. I know like, like BlackStar was the first place that ever showed, you know, my really. And then it was the first place I was there and sort of recognized.
Arthur Jafa (01:03:21):
And so it doesn’t mean that like when the New York film festival shows like that, I don’t value that or that are overvalued. You know, that because of that, it’s just like two different things. I know one is, is, uh, and one is like, you know, in the larger, larger, but like, you know, as much as people want to construct, Oh, Arthur Jafa became from out of the blue, as you know, in the art world was something, they very many people don’t, you know what I mean? Like in the black arts thing I’m not talking about, I don’t know, you know, I don’t know about black Hollywood or anything like that, but, but people who are involved in the black art scene, the black cinema thing, I think I’m pretty known entity, you know, after 30 years, I think people were surprised at the level of success, but ain’t nobody just, you know, finding out who I am and stuff like that, you know, I’m just like, I’m old G I just been in the game all the time.
Arthur Jafa (01:04:24):
I mean, I think, you know, some people may overvalue the nature of my success now. You know, I think a lot of people don’t necessarily, I think a lot of people’s like it, a was always crazy. He was always, he was always like on some other. You know what I mean? Like, I don’t think, I don’t think I’ve made anything. I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think I’ve made anything that anybody who knows me felt like it was some that was way beyond my capacity. I made some quantum leap or something. I don’t think so. I think more people would have wanted if I ever was going to make anything, maybe for all the other reasons that could be from structural to like mental health issues or whatever, you know what I’m saying? It’s like, I don’t think anybody would have been surprised if I did, but I also think nobody was surprised when I did. Right. And I think most people were like genuinely happy for me. I don’t think I’ve received so little sour grapes. It’s incredible. But I just thought I would have received more. I kinda missed it. I have a sort of long, you know, I used to say like, yeah, nobody critiques me. Nobody pushes back. And someone’s the hardest critique out here, but not in my face. I don’t know. Ain’t nobody out here. Well, you know, now you’re winning at winning. You’ve joined the ranks. Oh yeah. I guess that’s what it is.
Arthur Jafa (01:06:04):
But you know what I’m saying? Anybody who knows me knows I’m a discourse and I’m an argument, you know? So I like, it’s not about cemeteries in some kind of, yeah, maybe it is the answer. It’s not like, come for me. It’s just like, I like arguing about. And it’s like, I’ve never, I’ve only ever heard. One thing that was one might interpret as being negative by love is a message that was like, I have the male Instagram and somebody posted something goddess. He loves the message. And then it just, for some reason, I don’t only read those threads myself. I don’t know if it’s just somebody seeing it in a certain way. I find myself reading the thread and I must’ve gotten that like 60 comments into the thread and this person to say boring.
Arthur Jafa (01:07:00):
I remember that from like three, four years ago. I mean, I want to send them a premise. You know what I mean? Like, like for real, like no push, but you know, no pushback at all. Uh, yeah. It’s interesting. You know, I don’t know. Yeah. I don’t know if I’m too successful or whatever the with, or people just genuinely love me to the point that they don’t, you know, they want to articulate a problem. You know what I mean? But I don’t know what it is, but I’m just kinda like that somebody ends it really only one person. And this is a fairly recent person started to say some, you know, very critical things about me in general, I guess. But you know, I’m also, you know, I’m in a, somewhat of an Olympian realm now, too. So you know what I mean?
Arthur Jafa (01:08:01):
I don’t have to, I don’t have to respond to anything. So you know, this person that published this thing that said they posted this thing that said Arthur Jafa is the maker of like mediocre Vines, he’s a neoliberal maker of leaving your goodbyes. Now I was like, I, as part, I don’t have a problem with nuns around. I don’t think it’s mediocre. Cause I think if it was just mediocre, it wouldn’t have had the success. You know what I mean? I think it’s, it may not be like the greatest thing I’ve ever made, but it’s not mediocre. And I don’t think I’m a neoliberal, but hey, you know? And so when they sent it to me, right. You know what I mean? So somebody sends something I read, I didn’t respond to it. And then, but I thought what they were saying in general and their thread itself was interesting. So I followed them and then the next thing they posted this whole thing, like, you got some nerve to follow me after I critiqued you. Something like that. Now I’m just thinking to myself and maybe this backchannel communication, but I was like that wasn’t no critique. That was an assertion. You know what I mean? There’s a big difference. I appreciate it. You know what I mean? Maybe I’m just twisting enough that I’m flattered by it, but you know what I mean? So, um, but some of it’s just because it’s just been so little like pushback, you know what I mean? It’s just like black people just want somebody to love, I guess. You know? I mean, I think like you said, in some ways bound up with this winning at winning, you know, I’m succeeding. So people feel like, I don’t know. I don’t know what people feel like. All I know is there’s an absence of critique, you know what I mean? Like some of the obvious things you think might people might say just around the sort of I hazard to call it the centrality, but the presence of black death, you know, it’s like, couldn’t be more obvious in the essay called my black death. I got a fear of him called James and Cola. Didn’t dare.
Arthur Jafa (01:10:22):
I mean, somebody tried to, I remember, you know, me and Greg and Greg, like fairly early on when love is the message. And somebody says something to me and I was like, yo, I appreciate people do uplift, but it’s just not what I do. It’s not like people are uplifted by some of the things that I do do, you know, like a kingdom coming to us, pretty uplifting, but it’s not, this is not my impulse. My, you know, I say, I’m a great Digger. I’m an undertaker. You know what I mean? I’m, that’s my impulses go down. Like I D I love John Coltrane as artistic model, you know, in terms of how he mastered his instrument and pursue that. Love some AB Spelman, I think say John Coltrane was so amazing.
Arthur Jafa (01:11:17):
You know what I mean? But identify emotionally, you can’t call Miles a hero, he was an unrepentant wife abuser. You know what I mean? But, but emotionally I’m more like, identify with that work. You know what I mean? Um, and I think there is something altering is something under worldly about miles, his work. I mean, the sense of the realm of both things that are problematic, but also the around of the unconscious, the realm of the kind of psychoanalytic, the realm of this sort of process properly processed, you know, the ramble trauma. I mean, those are the spaces that I’m kind of drawn to. I mean, you, ain’t got to scratch so far in my work to see what it is that I’m fixated on. You know,
Maori Karmael Holmes (01:12:16):
It makes me think about Richard Nichols. One sent me a text and said, when life gives you lemons get liminal.
Arthur Jafa (01:12:24):
Maori Karmael Holmes (01:12:27):
I know that you have so many incredible artists and theorists that you are in, you know, friends with grew up with in some ways. And I was wondering if you have a council that you go to for your own, if you’re not getting this critique externally, do you have like an in-house counsel that you take your work to, or take your ideas to, to get their feedback and work through them?
Arthur Jafa (01:12:51):
Not really, no. I mean, I have a close circle of friends, but you know, like I’m thinking of different people. Like obviously Greg will be one person, but that’s like, you know, critiquing yourself in the mirror after being friends for 40 years. You know what I mean? You know, we’re really close friends like Saidiya and Tina camp, you know? I mean, it’s just maybe possible that they just are so aligned with the general project. No, there’s nothing. I remember very early on that I worry about all this black death, but she wasn’t even saying it in particular about my work. She was just saying in general, you know, um, but you know, did you read that thing, She, she wrote in bomb magazine called the death of white supremacy? I was like, this is bleak. I told her this is the bleakest thing. It was very bleak. And so, you know, Che Gossett, He said, this really brilliant thing. And I, I just can’t, I can never get around, you know, for whatever reason my brain is scrambled it, but it was something to the effect. And hopefully somebody out will be able to correct this. It was something to the effect. I want to say something it’s something like black optimism or black hope is not the absence of optimism. It was something like, like being, you know, being invested in the future. It’s not the absence of like, hope it’s the absence of optimism or something like that. I might be getting a completely back, but, you know, it’s just like, there’s certain things that I hear certain things that even when I say him, I’m like, that is true.
Arthur Jafa (01:14:55):
Like I was talking to somebody and you know, they will go on and on about this movie that made all this money and it was just going on out on about it. And I wasn’t saying anything, I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I wasn’t trying to critique it. I just was not saying anything. I’m not a fan of the loop. Right. And it just kept going on and on. And then at a certain point when I didn’t, I didn’t get a negative, it was like shrugging my shoulders. And then at a certain point, I say, but he made a billion dollars. And I just said, so did slavery, so what the, fuck what the does that mean? Making a billion dollars is great, making a billion dollars, but Hey, the Nazi’s made a billion dollars. You know, it’s not like, uh, an achievement that’s like inherently, you know what I mean? Like ethically sound or something like that. It’s like, what does that, what does that mean? So anyway, I’m just rambling now.
Maori Karmael Holmes (01:15:56):
Well, thank you so much. Thank you for listening to this episode of many lumens, visit us at manylumens.com to subscribe and follow us on Instagram and Twitter, @manylumens. Many Lumens is brought to you by Blackstar. This episode was produced by Patrice Worthy and Farrah Rahaman edited by David Adams and engineered by Mike Maholick. Our music supervisor is Rashid Zakat. Our theme song was composed by VJ Mohan and remixed by David DJ, little Dave Adams. Sending you light and see you next time.