“Evil.27: Selma” + “Black Celebration (A Rebellion Against the Commodity”

Two video installations by American artist and educator Tony Cokes, which were part of BAK’s exhibition Tony Cokes: To Live as Equals (February-May 2020).


Tony Cokes is an artist and educator based in Providence, Rhode Island, where he works as a professor in the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, Providence.

This presentation is part of BAK’s program to “meet people where they are” by sharing artworks from the archive that are driven by the urgencies of our time.


Tony Cokes
Evil.27: Selma, 2011
9 mins

Listen live to the sound accompanying the video:


This work is based on a milestone in the civil rights movement in the United States in the mid-1950s: the Montgomery bus boycott, which began with the refusal of Rosa Parks, a young Black woman, to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. This series of historic events unfolded in a society without mass image circulation: “The American Civil rights Movement took hold in a society moving from radio to television,” reads one of the slides. This text is borrowed from “Notes from Selma: On Non-Visibility” (2009) by the Alabama collective Our Literal Speed, which navigates the tension between what is seen and what is unseen, and what political possibility is enabled by “a social collectivity dependent on the imagination” rather than the “instant visibility” that shapes the reality of today. Mixing this text with lyrics and a soundtrack by singer and songwriter Morrissey—“The more you ignore me, the closer I get”—the work reconsiders the contemporary dominance of the image by giving it up in favor of the power of the message. 


Tony Cokes
Black Celebration (A Rebellion Against the Commodity), 1988
17:11 mins

Listen live to the sound accompanying the video:



Between 1960 and 1968, a wave of uprising and acts of civil disobedience took place in several US cities, with many Black neighborhoods standing up against systemic oppression. This work by artist Tony Cokes deconstructs the original coverage of those events, which habitually delegitimized their political nature and instead framed them as isolated criminal episodes. The original black-and-white newsreel footage of uprisings in Watts, Boston, Newark, and Detroit is juxtaposed by animated excerpts of texts by musician Martin Lee Gore, artist Barbara Kruger, and the Situationist International movement, among others. Muting the news voice-over and replacing it with music by the industrial rock band Skinny Puppy, the artist presents a counter-reading of the riots as a rebellion against the logics of capital that fostered institutional abuse in Black communities. Such visual and sonic links to diverse emblems of radical political thought re-signify the riots as a historical movement of counter-power. The work, one of the Cokes’s earliest but most iconic pieces, was originally commissioned by the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York.