Skip to main content
The Ruby is a catalyst for creativity and a home for making art at Duke.

Project Statement

Carl Pope. Courtesy of Hyperallergic.

The Bad Air Smelled of Roses: A Silk Screen, Wheat Paste Project at Duke University

Artist statement by Carl Pope:

I wanted to create an artwork and a forest of signs that addressed aspects of Blackness which is a narrative thread that is weaved through every area of knowledge. Blackness as a metaphor is associated with African-American culture, the unconscious, negative emotions, the unknown and the unknowable, deception, duplicity, forgetfulness, denial, blind spots, confusion, etc. Blackness also corresponds to manifested forms and is feminine and magnetic in nature.

The graphic essay/poster installation The Bad Air Smelled of Roses represents an attempt to use the advertising style of slogans as referential signs to create epiphanies about the ubiquitous presence and function of Blackness within society, Nature and the imagination of the viewer. For this particular iteration of The Bad Air... at Duke University, I am focusing on a constellation of interrelated narratives regarding the rise of the second wave of the Civil Rights Movement in response to the growing violence of white nationalism and militarized police action killings of People of Color, immigrants and refugees.

The issues surrounding police brutality, social justice and the Black Lives Matter Movement exist throughout the history of this country with slavery and Black Reconstruction. Now, these issues are a rallying cry for human rights all over the world. In examining the intertextuality of myths, historical accounts and mainstream news stories addressing militarized State power and various struggles for human freedom, I find that there are certain older stories and their narrative structures which are being retold in new stories. As a result, complicated, nuanced questions arise when being confronted with real-life events based on the self-replication of certain narratives and propaganda repackaged by those with cultural and political power as advertising or journalism and then disseminated as factual information by the mainstream media and academia.

What does it mean, in the Information Age, for patriotic American Christians to condemn the Black Lives Movement but profess their love of Jesus Christ while knowing the story of how the Pharisees and Roman authorities arrested and crucified him? Is it possible to follow Christ with unwavering integrity while supporting the actions of the State that flip-flops on its own democratic rights and freedoms and remain sane? Such questions bring into sharp focus widely held values and many compromises to those values, if one cares to explore them with self-honesty. And if one does care enough to look with comprehension and insight, the question is: If the narratives in my previous reading are advancing the narrative structure in my present reading, where is my personal identification with my reading leading me to think, belief and imagine?

Of course, there are numerous taboos that forbid this kind of cultural literacy and criticality. But now it seems fitting to use this wheat paste iteration of The Bad Air Smelled of Roses to inspire the students at Duke University to meditate on the rollout of the logic of contemporary society, recent developments in the US culture wars and their cascading effects at this particular time in America’s history.

Students in Bill Fick’s “Poster Design and Printing” course will complete the installation, screen-printing the posters in Pope’s style and wheat pasting them onto the Rubix. Pope created 22 new slogans for the students to work with and will virtually join Fick’s class to offer them support and guidance throughout the project.

In this 2018 interview, Carl Pope gives insight into his motivation to create “The Bad Air Smelled of Roses” and speaks in-depth about some of the posters in the installation. Video courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art.

Supported by

Tune into events & opportunities!

Sign up for our newsletter