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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:

“The Bad Air Smelled of Roses” is an ongoing writing project that creates with posters, essays and printed material a forest of referential signs about aspects of Blackness as a narrative thread that weaves through every field of knowledge and human experience. Blackness is associated with African-American culture, the unconscious, the hidden, the unknown and the unknowable, deception, duplicity, forgetfulness, denial, blind spots, confusion and more. 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 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 Black Lives Matter Movement and the growing criminalization, violence and killing of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, People of Color, immigrants and asylum seekers.

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 the struggle for human freedom, I find that there are certain older stories being retold with these pressing issues. As a result, complicated, nuanced questions arise when we are confronted with real-life events concerning the replication of these narratives, repackaged and disseminated by the mainstream media and key institutions.

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 used political power to make the Roman authorities arrested, torture and crucified him? Is it possible to follow Christ with integrity while supporting the actions of the State? What is the logic I am following if I support both sides and is it really possible to be on both sides and remain sane or be free of duplicity? Such questions bring into sharp focus the surreality of the logic provided by those in authority, if one cares to interrogate them with self-honesty.

And if I am interested enough to honestly look, what are the narratives I am advancing in my past reading and/or present reading of current events? What is my personal identification with my reading leading me to think, belief and imagine? Is what I imagine what I wish to imagine or is it what I am told to imagine? Of course there are numerous unspoken taboos that forbid this kind of cultural literacy and critical examination. 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 U.S. culture wars and their cascading effects at this particular time in America 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.

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