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Mari Evans' word ethos at the Tube Factory

Carl Pope's Big Car exhibit examines the life and work of Mari Evans


Carl Pope with one of the pieces in the Mari Evans exhibit
  • Carl Pope with one of the pieces in the Mari Evans exhibit

Carl Pope, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, came back to the city to live in 2008. So his exhibition Mari Evans at Tube Factory artspace — based on his appreciation of the Indy-based writer, educator and poet — could be seen as a homecoming of sorts.

Pope first encountered the writing of Mari Evans, a towering figure in the Black Arts Movement, while growing up.

The central display in this exhibition, printed on a large vinyl banner, is entitled "A Reading of Clarity of Concept." It consists of quotations from Mari Evans' aforementioned book in an overlapping variety of fonts.

"As an adolescent, I experienced Mari Evans, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.," said Pope. "Indianapolis was the kind of place where you could walk somewhere, especially in the summertime, and see Muhammad Ali or Bill Cosby. ... I've seen these people on the street in Indianapolis. So that social consciousness came to me through my experience in the black community in the '60s and '70s."

After moving back to Indy, Pope took a hiatus from socially engaged art projects (such as The Mind of Cleveland, conceived in 2008 when he was a joint visiting fellow at The Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University and The Cleveland Institute of Art).

But then last year, he jumped back into the art world. "I got a residency in at the Montavo Art Center in Saratoga, California," said Pope. "At that residency program, I met Gary Hongo, who is a Japanese American poet who was really good friends with [the late Indianapolis-based poet] Etheridge Knight. When he learned I was from Indianapolis, he started talking about Etheridge for an hour."

This conversation made him reconsider his Indianapolis upbringing. Not too long after, Jim Walker and Shauta Marsh of Big Car Collaborative gave him a copy of Mari Evans' book of essays Clarity of Concept to read. Plans for this exhibition started to fall into place.

"When I opened up this book everything started to flood back in immediately," said Pope. "I was transported. And in a strange sort of way the missing pieces of the puzzle came together in this exhibition, in reading this book about the very basic foundations of my work as a socially engaged artist."

Clarity as Concept includes essays about Evans' own experiences since she was a young child, living in Indianapolis and her time teaching.

But for Pope, the meaning of Evans' words goes beyond the unique experiences of African Americans.

"I think there's more than just African Americans in that place of the untouchables, the ninety-nine percent. She's talking to African Americans, but she's talking to so many people right now."

Across from the banner display is a collection of books in distinct piles. Among these books is Egyptian Book of the Dead. Another is a Jewish prayer book from Ethiopia, written in Amharic. There are books by Black authors who wrote for white characters, such as Andre Dumas. There are books of African history.

And, of course, there are works by Mari Evans.

"What's interesting in the collection is that Mari's work is in several different veins," said Pope. "So if you look at the book collection, the books of literary criticism are from Mari and the poetry as well as her children's books. She's doing much more than writing poetry; she's a really important literary critic who actually galvanized the genre of Black female writers."

Also on view is a collection of photographic portraits of African American figures in the exhibition from Indianapolis-based photographers Linda Evans and William Rasdale. There are also photographs from the Indianapolis Historical Society.

"One of the things I pick up from her is that she uses the word ethos; the sort of creative environment in which we live, which signifies forces that are beyond dramatic characters' thoughts and feelings," said Pope. "So I think that she uses that idea that there are forces at play that are beyond our will even to deal with."


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