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The Big Crossover @URL: A Conversation with Arthur Jafa and Trey Ellis

  • Maylses Documentary Center 343 Lenox Ave New York (map)
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Experimental film has carved out modes of presentation and distribution as multifaceted as the work and the artists that constitute the movement - which is to say, there is no shortage of creative ways utilized by filmmakers and artists to get their work seen. However, non-studio based distribution of the contemporary American film and art scene has borne a dualistic exchange between the ‘Art World’ and the digital sphere that calls for artists to navigate their own identity and work within a mediated ecosystem of predetermined social capital, expectation and currency. 

Artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa (Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, and The White Album) has maneuvered and, in part by way of hitting the eject button from the driver’s seat of his own art career, flown high above and  transcended the boundaries between the commercial-film-scene and the Art World. Having produced videos for the Knowles sisters, Jay Z and other A list stars, his diverse filmography offers vital perspectives on the systems through which, and eventually outside of which, he made his career. He will be in conversation with author, filmmaker and professor Trey Ellis (The New Black Aesthetic, King In The Wilderness) around the experience of being an artist, and specifically a Black artist while navigating these complex systems of cultural production. He will utilize clips from his own video work to discuss. 


Arthur Jafa (b. 1960, Tulepo, 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, The 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, 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 others.

Trey Ellis is a novelist, filmmaker, playwright, essayist, and an Associate Professor at Columbia University. Most recently he was an Executive Producer of the HBO documentary King in the Wilderness


This event is the second part of The Big Crossover @URL which examines the place of experimental film within the ecosystems of art making, stardom, currency, and the Art Economy, as well as the mainstream content economy and ideas pipeline. This section is a meditation on the new, elusive social capital experimental filmmakers sometimes garner and sometimes reject in the Internet era. Utilizing both physical and screen space we explore the role of internet-mediated representations of marginalized people in digital hierarchies of exposure, profit and expectation. Through this lens we seek to ask: how do, and how can, marginalized people claim ownership and representation of their identities online?

The Big Crossover @URL is a section of the yearlong experimental film series The American Experiment supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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Earlier Event: September 6
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