Arthur Jafa at the Rudolfinum

Videos, photos and objects offer insight into not only the black experience

A series of videos and images by American artist Arthur Jafa and others called A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions will be at the Rudolfinum until March 31, and admission is free. The opening is Jan. 16 at 6 pm.

Jaffa has worked as a cinematographer for Spike Lee on Crooklyn and for Julie Dash on the art house hit Daughters of the Dust. He also has made music videos for Solange Knowles.

The show at the Rudolfinum features some of his short videos compiled from various media and social media sources of still and moving images, plus large-scale pictures and montages. He has been collecting images since the 1980s, and several volumes of his collection can be perused, if one is willing to take the time. Images are often put side by side for effect.

He does not like to be pigeonholed as a black artist. “I mean I am a bit resistant to say my topic is black people, because, you know, if you had another artist their topic is not white people, it’s just their topic is whatever it is,” he said.

He does feel, though, that his work is for a wide audience. “I mean … one of the things I share with associates of mine like Kerry James Marshall and John Akomfrah is that as black artists we have always felt we should not have to make work that is not about black people in order for to be universally received. We think it is important to make work about our experiences our specific sort of understanding of the world so that people have an opportunity to develop ‘their muscle – the sympathy,’ the capacity to see yourself in someone else’s experiences. I think it is like really important,” he added.

At a press conference before the opening, he said he was concerned that he was making a “microwave” version of the black experience, something pre-packaged and easy to present. He hopes instead that the images and videos have a strong emotional impact on the viewers.

This is Jafa’s first exhibit in Prague. A different version of this show was in London and Berlin, and after it closes in Prague it will go to Stockholm.

As with all shows that depend on videos, the viewer has to take some time to watch, rather than simply glance at a few seconds and move on.

Two videos bookend the show. Love is the Message, The Message is Death is at the entry, and Apex is at the exit. Both should be watched in their entirety.

“I am excited that we managed to get Jafa’s key works to be shown in Prague: the eight-minute video Apex, a quick sequence of hundreds of images of objects, people and events, and especially the one-minute shorter Love is the Message, The Message is Death. It is a video composed of footage of concerts, marches, police operations or YouTube clips edited by Jafa against the soundtrack of the gospel-inspired Ultralight Beam by Kanye West. The fact that it is being shown expands the original exhibition concept of the Serpentine Galleries [in London],” Petr Nedoma, director Galerie Rudolfinum and exhibition curator in Prague, said.

Another room in the exhibit has four videos showing at once, and viewers can borrow headphones with different audio channels to wander around. This opens up the possibility to mix and match different audio and video elements.

From the found images, there is wallpaper made out an enlarged newspaper photograph of an armed incident at a courthouse in 1970, and one of a lynching in 1919.
Objects include a flag made of all black material but with the pieces in the outline of shapes in the Confederate battle flag.

Some pieces are by other artists who catalog the black experience on social media such as Youtube and Instagram: Ming Smith, Frida Orupabo and Missylanyus.

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