John E. Dowell, Jr Sam Gilliam Felrath Hines Gordon Parks Lorna Simpson Richard Hunt Romare Bearden John Woodrow Wilson Robert Colescott Adrian Piper Renée Stout Eldzier Cortor Richard Mayhew Carl Pope
African American Art Text Graphic

Carl Pope

Created with a purpose look deeper than the surface (C.N. Cleveland Heights, Ohio) from The Mind of Cleveland Poster Series, 2008

Pope credits his high school photography teacher with inspiring him to pursue art and to see it as a tool for personal and social change. His community-based project in the rust belt city of Cleveland reflects this transformative attitude. Funded by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities of Case Western Reserve University, The Mind of Cleveland is a conceptual public art project that began with the simple question, “What do you think about Cleveland?” Pope spent over a year and a half visiting the city and asking people (rich and poor, young and old, white and black) to give their answers in ten words or less. Their comments were randomly selected and posted on billboards, bus kiosks, and displayed in a multi-media installation at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  

This set of posters was available in the exhibition as a giveaway to spread the project’s ideas after the show ended, to emphasize its populist approach to art, and to engage directly with the viewers. Pope has often used the old-fashioned letterpress medium to explore complex ideas about race, community, and self-identity. Minimal in design—their style resembles cheap advertising signage—the posters let the words carry the meaning. Seen (and read) as a whole, they reveal a community zeitgeist that is as diverse as its citizenry. Some are hopeful, while others reflect the real difficulties faced by a shrinking industrial city in the first decade of the new millennium. Although Pope let the people speak for themselves, he hoped that by mapping their collective mindset he could encourage the people in Cleveland to take “greater ownership from the grassroots level and create what they want to see happen in their neighborhoods, school district, and in the city as a whole.”

Pope studied cinema and photography at Southern Illinois University and worked as a freelance commercial photographer for more than a decade. He received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, Lilly Endowment, and the National Endowment for the Arts to photograph the socio-economic landscape of Indianapolis. He has exhibited with Adrian Piper, Lorna Simpson, and Darrel Ellis, and he gained national attention in the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art. He continued his studies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, New York University, and Indiana University. Pope began working with video/text installations, including Palimpsest, which was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial.  

Romare Bearden, The Family

Carl Pope
American, b. 1961
Created with a purpose look deeper than the surface (C.N. Cleveland Heights, Ohio) from The Mind of Cleveland Poster Series, 2008
Letterpress broadside
Image: 24 7/8 x 15 7/8 in. (63.2 x 40.3 cm); sheet: 26 1/4 x 17 in. (66.7 x 43.2 cm)
Gift of Nanette Esseck Brewer, IU Art Museum 2008.195 Art © Carl Pope

Other Works:


Romare Bearden
Robert Colescott
John E. Dowell, Jr
Sam Gilliam
Felrath Hines
Richard Hunt
Gordon Parks
Adrian Piper
Lorna Simpson
John Woodrow Wilson
Renée Stout
Eldzier Cortor
Richard Mayhew
Carl Pope