Exhibition Review: "Air Above Mountains, Unknown Pleasures"
By Iyana Jones
Walking into the space and being welcomed by a large gold writing stating “Wakanda Never”, it is clear that artist Arthur Jafa’s experience with blackness is an outlier to popular culture. Jafa’s Air Above Mountains, Unknown Pleasures is his latest collection of work observing the experience of blackness and its ability to be self possessed and the way in which it finds ways to love itself fully and completely. His newest video piece, akingdoncomethas, is a look into the black church as a series of rituals rich with the motion and slow methodological cadence, and theatrical performance that is specific to black Christianity. The black experience of Christianity has created its own smaller community inside of Christianity as a whole that we all get to experience for a moment.
While viewers watch the mix of contemporary sermons and songs, Jafa explores the consolidated basis of the church that black people have created for themselves. Even in modern times, gospel songs are reminiscent of old slave songs- slow, deep, and full of passion and pain. This unique form of communication that is expressed through worship battle cries and speaking in tounges, a language spoken only when consumed with the spirit of God. Jafa delves into this private sector within the Christian community that is almost impossible to replicate in any secular situation. akingdoncomethas is a letter of appreciation for the unmatched originality and creativity black people are often overlooked for.
Big Wheels, a portion of truck tires tied large metal chains is an ode to Jafa’s Mississippi upbringing. Despite their heavy and rough exterior, as they hang gracefully in the air, soul music playing quietly in the background, he looks for beauty in something originally seen as harsh. This search for joy in a world full of racism is often an integral part of the black experience.
Jafa held a talk with viewers of the exhibition and instead of speaking about his art, he discussed his own disconnect with the church, why artists like Kanye West can be both flawed and a musical genius, and his undying love for things of the nineties. When passing by the Wakanda Never sign once more to leave, it is a reminder of Jafa’s goal to create a space where black people are able to appreciate themselves wholeheartedly and tangibly, not only in a fictional world.