Tony Cokes, Evil.27: Selma, 2011, instal
Tony Cokes, Evil.27: Selma, 2011, installation view, BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht, 2020, photo: Tom Janssen
until 31 January 2021
Tony Cokes: To Live as Equals 2020

From 16 October 2020 until 31 January 2021 BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht presents Tony Cokes: To Live as Equals, an exhibition and public program with and around the work of multimedia artist Tony Cokes. The exhibition is curated by Thiago de Paula Souza.

UPDATE 13 JANUARY 2021: The exhibition is prematurely closed, due to the prolonged Dutch Covid-19 lockdown.

In the time since its first opening on 28 February 2020 and its near-immediate closure due to the Covid-19 lockdown measures, global movements have coalesced around fighting fascisms, anti-Blackness, and intersecting forms of inequality, with wide-ranging protests and riots, new and reborn organizations, policy reforms, and ideas such as the reactivated notion in the US and elsewhere of defunding the police. In this context, the work of Tony Cokes asserts an even larger urgency and pressing relevance. With the reopening of Tony Cokes: To Live as Equals, we at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst look for renewed conversations, plans, and exchanges in this critical historical moment.
Tony Cokes: To Live as Equals
Tony Cokes: To Live as Equals brings together selected video works from the past 30 years, tracing Cokes’s unique formation of social critique through visual and textual codes, and his changing relationship to archival material over several different global historical moments. The works draw a through line from these historical events to the present of systemic violence and ever-more-complex forms of social control. What are ways of seeing and responding to the seemingly endless cycles of inequality and oppression? How then, the exhibition queries, could one break those cycles and envision living as equals?

The title of the exhibition refers to Cokes’s Evil.27: Selma (2011), which reconsiders the contemporary dominance of the image as evidence and record. Invoking a period of civil mobilization in the United States that came about in a time without mass image circulation, the video examines what is lost when “everything is instantly visible”. Another work from his mostly imageless Evil Series (2001-present) includes Evil.16 (Torture.Musik) (2009–2011), which examines popular music as a US Army psychological warfare device through the very songs used in torture. Other central works include FADE TO BLACK (1990), an assemblage of Black stereotypes from cinema history that contends with the subliminal elements of race relations, and Black Celebration (1988), which reappropriates Situationist texts alongside footage from the 1960s-era riots in Detroit and Los Angeles.

Tony Cokes: To Live as Equals immerses viewers in the audiovisual language that Cokes has developed over his career, which typically blurs the aesthetics of pop music videos and visual art. Characterized by appropriation and repetition, and the use of archival materials and text set to identifiable pop bangers, Cokes’s work breaks with the modern grammars of media circulation in order to subvert popular rhetorics of power and violence. This practice is grounded in the fraught relation between history and memory, and strongly questions western contemporary culture while maintaining a sharp awareness of the limits of theoretical critique. His works instead interrogate current conditions of capital, knowledge distortion, and the fascisms of everyday life by rehearsing new possibilities of understanding, and by combining political analysis with the pleasure of pop.
The reopening spans two days, Friday 16 and Saturday 17 October 2020, between 13.00 and 21.00 hrs each day, to accommodate visitors safely and offer the public a chance to engage with Cokes’s works. At set times throughout the day, the BAK team gives introductions to Cokes’s work and the exhibition. The reopening also includes two evening programs: on Friday 16 October 2020, the launch of the publication Deserting from the Culture Wars (2020), edited by Maria Hlavajova and Sven Lütticken and published by BAK and MIT Press, and on Saturday 17 October 2020, the launch of a new book by artist Nicoline van Harskamp, My Name is Language (2020), published by Scriptings and Archive Books, also availabe as an e-book at

More public program
Public Studies: Practice as Theory
19–20 October 2020
A two-day workshop presented by Tony Cokes on violence, representation, images, and the uses of theory, examined through key works by the artist.

Propositions #13
Oct–Dec 2020
More information to be announced soon.