Martine Syms: Nite Life

May 2018

Martine Syms Martine Syms, Nite Life, 2015 (installation view in Seattle)




Western Bridge presents a Seattle installation of Martine Syms’s large-scale outdoor text Nite Life. Spanning two city blocks, the work reads as a running phrase, stringing together excerpts of banter between the American soul performer and songwriter Sam Cooke and his audience at the Harlem Square Club, Miami.

The recording of this 1963 live performance was shelved by RCA Records for over two decades, as the rawness of Cooke’s vocal style and the directness of his interactions with the audience were deemed a threat to his demure pop image. Syms examines this ‘threatening’ communication directly, magnifying its scale physically, and pulling the phrases into a continuous statement that builds with a convivial energy:




Nite Life is part of a broader series of public artworks by Syms that draw from the vernacular of Chitlin’ Circuit promotional materials. The works take the form of new advertisements, pulling imagery and language from handmade posters promoting performance venues run by the Black community across segregation-era South. The series was originally presented on transit routes across Miami’s Overtown neighborhood for the 2015 O, Miami Poetry Festival. In Seattle, the work is shown as part of a lone, a city-wide program of poetry and art in public spaces, presented by Gramma Poetry and Vignettes.

Nite Life will be on view adjacent to the Capitol Hill Link light rail station, on Broadway E in Seattle, through May, 2018. Western Bridge greatly thanks the Sound Transit STart team for their partnership in siting the work.


Read Martine Syms in conversation on Nite Life, media distribution, and Chitlin’ Circuit histories:


Hear Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963:


Visit other projects in the a lone program


Martine Syms works across visual and print media, incorporating images from personal and popular culture to explore the ways in which language, gesture and image form conceptions of identity. Her recent feature-length film Incense, Sweaters & Ice follows two Black women navigating routes of the Great Migration. Syms’ work has been exhibited and screened widely, including presentations at MoMA PS1, ICA London, The Studio Museum in Harlem, MCA Chicago, the Hammer Museum, and recent exhibitions at Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York, and Sadie Coles HQ, London. She is the founder of Dominica Publishing, a small imprint dedicated to exploring Blackness as a topic, reference, marker and audience in visual culture.