As Pope recounts this, she stares at the boxing ring that has been erected in the main gallery of the Rockford Art Museum, which recently opened “Not Without a Fight,” a sort of survey/retrospective of the past 10 years of Pope’s often moving, occasionally pugilistic practice. That ring, for instance. Take it as a metaphor for confrontation. Or as a boxing ring: On Friday, the museum will host a real fight night, albeit one in which bouts are punctuated by poetry readings. Pope will not be fighting. She’ll be the ring leader.
She’ll do it surrounded by her works, which are often scrawled with quotes from the Chicago and New York City teenagers she interviews. Varsity jackets that don’t have school names etched across the backs but hard truths (“I took the blame”). Banners that don’t honor championships but unsettled feelings (“Sometimes I tell the truth too much”). Pope talks to students about gun violence, and about responsibility, and anxiety, and jail, and growing up, then she creates works that draw on their conversations. And when she sells these works, a portion of the sale goes to the student who gave her the quote. Add to this a gold-painted basketball (reading “Truth Be Told”) and a disassembled punching bag, and the Rockford museum — housed in a former Sears — looks distinctly like a gym.