Founded in 1915, Karamu House, in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood, is the oldest African-American theater in the United States. Its name means “a place of joyful gathering” in Swahili. The institution’s founders, Russell and Rowena Woodham Jelliffe, were mentors and friends to Langston Hughes, whose poem “Two Somewhat Different Epigrams” provided the inspiration for FRONT 2022’s title and theme. Several of Hughes’s plays were first developed and premiered at the theater. Today, Karamu’s mission is to produce professional theater, provide arts education, and present programs for all people while honoring the African American experience.
Here, Tony Cokes presents a previously unreleased video, seamless.integration (2007). Using free software by Barbara Lattanzi, the video fragments and re-composes a car commercial claiming “seamless integration” between different technologiesmusic and vehicle. Cokes transforms this source material, introducing structural stutters that reveal the original commercial’s assumptions about race and difference. A running ticker tape animates a James Baldwin text that discusses an integration—and histories—that have not been, nor will ever be, seamless.
In his work since the 1990s, Cokes has generated
complex layers of meaning through the juxtaposition
of basic elements such as language and sound. This straightforward format belies a larger intention to reflect on systemic issues of race, urban politics, musical histories, and community in multivocal, disjunctive ways. Cokes’s use of pop music and animated text allows him to tackle challenging social issues in a way that remains within reach.
At FAVA Gallery, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Transformer Station, Cokes presents new works that touch upon histories of artistic and musical production and their intersection with larger political questions.