My Black Death

Arthur Jafa

Exhibition: Jul 11 – Sep 8, 2002

Arthur Jafa is a conceptual artist whose body of work considers the conundrum of creating complex personifications of one’s (Black) self while resisting the reductive mechanisms that strive to constrain any non-white (and non-male) subject resistant to privileging hegemonic modes of artists discourse. His work is informed by music, psychoanalytic theory, working class expressivity, image processing, Buddhism, and Black aesthetic, which are taken to be of a whole. As such he seeks to create artifacts equal to the task of embodying the complex array of influences that constitute his (contested) paternity.

Through his visual work, Jafa is simultaneously creating and mapping a space for himself in relation to cultural assumptions concerning identity and race. Jafa endeavors to envision and develop a precise language of a black being while meeting the paradoxical challenge of articulating the sensations in the space of a physical material reality, all in a manner which is both culturally specific and universal. Additionally, he is preoccupied with triggering the formation of mutant strands of cultural discourse: axenzi, superbad behavior, Black abstraction, black white trash.

Citing a desire to create works that are felt, Jafa’s installation at Artpace explores relatively underutilized sensory modes (touch and smell) as privileged means of artistic expressivity. Referencing influences as diverse as Fang sculpture, John Coltrane, John DeLorean, Mississippi jook joints, Miles Davis, Ryoanji gardens, Donald Judd, boliw, Smokey and the Bandit, tantric practices, and Albert Ayler, Jafa’s installation levels and amplifies the process of social being and alienation.


Arthur Jafa

New York, New York, USA

Arthur Jafa was born in 1960 in Tupelo, Mississippi and raised in Clarksdale, MS. He currently lives and works in New York, NY. Jafa studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C. His work has been exhibited in Social Formal, Westfälischer Kunstveren, Münster, Germany (2002); Bitstreams, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2001); 2000 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Media City, Seoul, Korea (2000); Black Box, CCAC Institute, Oakland, CA (2000); Artists Space, New York, NY (1999); and in Okwui Enwezor’s Mirror’s Edge which opened at the BildMusset, University of Umeå in Sweden and traveled to the Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada; Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy; and Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland (1999).

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Valerie Cassel

Houston, Texas, USA

Valerie Cassel is an Associate Curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX. She recently curated the first U.S. solo exhibition of the work of Ghada Amer and is organizing several forthcoming exhibitions including Afrotemple by Sanford Biggers and the group exhibition, Splat Boom Pow! The Influence of Cartoons in Contemporary Art (1970-Present). Prior to her position at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Cassel was the director of the Visiting Artists Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1996-2001) and Program Specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts (1988-1995). In 2000, she served as co-curator of the Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.

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