Award-winning Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph’s (Film Production – ’03) work has been described as hypnotic, haunting and lyrical. He’s directed short films and music videos for artists and rappers, including Until the Quiet Comes (2011), a video for musician Flying Lotus that earned him the 2012 Short Film Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Now, Joseph’s double-screen video installation of his 2014 video, m.A.A.d, commissioned by Compton born rapper Kendrick Lamar, is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Grand Avenue space. The 14-minute video, which screened last summer in a single screen version at 2014 Sundance’s Next Fest in Los Angeles at the Ace Hotel, weaves together film footage of amateur actors, aerial views of Los Angeles, Lamar’s home videos and news footage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Set to the lyrics from Lamar’s 2014 breakout album good kid, m.A.A.d city, m.A.A.d takes Joseph’s signature style to a new level.
With images of contemporary African-American life in Los Angeles woven throughout his work, Joseph tends to favor South Los Angeles as the stage for his productions. Until the Quiet Comes featured the ghost of a murdered man who comes back to life and dances his way to the afterlife, set against the backdrop of South L.A.’s Nickerson Gardens in Watts. Images of helicopters patrolling the neighborhood, lowriders and kids playing against the L.A. sunset are interposed with dreamlike underwater shots–water is another common theme in Joseph’s work.
Similarly, m.A.A.d offers captivating images of the everyday Compton community: teenagers hanging out at a local football game, patrons at the corner barbershop and underwater swimming montages. These shots are combined with Lamar’s 1992 home videos, and footage of police brutality and civil turbulence following the April 1992 Rodney King verdict. At one point in the film, after a neighborhood shooting scene, a quote from poet, playwright and activist Amiri Baraka appears on screen: “We used to know we were stronger than the devil.”
“As beautiful as m.A.A.d is visually, the inclusion of home videos dated to 1992 lets the viewer know that this picture of Los Angeles has a rearview mirror – one in which the civil unrest following the Rodney King verdict is a distant memory, on the precipice of being forgotten, but a history nonetheless continues to haunt our ideas about race in America,” writes Helen Molesworth, MOCA’s Chief Curator.
The title of the exhibition references philosopher W.E.B. DuBois’s term for the internal struggle of African-Americans, “double conscience.” Joseph’s installation shows the creativity and beauty of these predominately African-American communities, while shedding light on the very timely issues concerning police brutality and the fatalities of black men at the hands of white officers. In an article for W Magazine, Joseph expands, “It’s this duality that is very central to the black experience in this country. If everything was good all the time, you don’t know what it’s all about.”
Kahlil Joseph: Double Conscience runs through August 16 at MOCA Grand Avenue, 250 S. Grand Ave., downtown Los Angeles.