Kellie Jones Discusses the 2024 Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter Lecture Series Event

Artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa will come to campus to share his thoughts on his recent work.

Eve Glasberg
February 02, 2024

Columbia News caught up recently with Kellie Jones, the Hans Hofmann Professor of Modern Art and chair of the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies (AAADS), to chat with her about the upcoming Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter Lecture Series event on February 8, featuring Jones in conversation with renowned artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa. She also shares details about other AAADS events taking place this spring.

How did this years iteration of the Shawn Jay-Z Carter Lecture Series come about?

This lecture series was developed to celebrate the establishment of Columbia's new Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies in 2018. Each year we offer a program of thought-provoking public discussions that spotlight the most compelling questions surrounding African Diasporic life, history, and culture. The inaugural program in 2020 featured Shawn Carter himself in conversation with Jelani Cobb, who is now the dean of Columbia’s Journalism School.

In 2023, AAADS Adjunct Professor Obery Hendricks held a conversation with Reverend Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor at Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church and a U.S. Senator from Georgia. They talked about the Senator's book, A Way Out of No Way: A Memoir of Truth, Transformation, and the New American Story. Over the last few years, AAADS, under the auspices of an Andrew W. Mellon grant, has focused on centering the arts in African American and African Diaspora studies. Arthur Jafa’s upcoming program is another example of our continuing to celebrate Black artists on all our platforms. 

Arthur Jafa

What is it about Jafa that makes him such an important artist?

His multimedia approach to the art-making process is what makes his body of work so compelling. He has a long-standing relationship to the medium of film and the filmmaking community, having served as a cinematographer on films by Spike Lee (Crooklyn), Isaac Julien (Darker Side of Black), and John Akomfrah (Seven Songs for Malcolm X), as well as Julie Dash’s classic tale of a post-slavery, Black community, Daughters of the Dust.

As an independent artist, Jafa has brought that filmic eye to other mediums—video, photography, sculpture—in exciting ways. Working in a multimedia vein gives him ample opportunity to impact viewers and explore questions of power, beauty, and alienation that inform African Diasporic life.  His practice offers viewers a window, a moment, a space in time to think about the world we live in today. Jafa has exhibited his work internationally, and in 2019, he received the Golden Lion for the Best Participant at the 58th Venice Biennale. He opens a new show at the Tribeca gallery, 52 Walker, in April.

Work by Arthur Jafa

What are some other AAADS events or programs happening this spring?

We have a lot of wonderful programs on the calendar this semester. Here are a few highlights:

  • February 20—The Barnard Africana Studies Department and AAADS are bringing singer Corinne Bailey Rae to campus for a public program in the Diana Oval; her new album, Black Rainbows, is inspired by art and literature.
  • March 27—Historian Barbara Savage will present her new book on Merze Tate, a scholar of international relations and diplomacy.
  • April 4—The Zora Neale Hurston Lecture on Artificial Intelligence will take place, with Alondra Nelson, formerly of Columbia, now at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.