Dr. Carol Marie Webster, PhD

Cardboard Dream

Cardboard (corrugated fiberboard) – patented by Albert Jones in 1871 – has had a peculiar presence in contemporary 21st century western life. Publicly, cardboard serves as announcement of social location, pizza delivery, and the arrival of new purchases (furniture, technology, houseware, books, etc.). Cardboard also serves as the mask shift homes, mats, and tables of the homeless.

In recent weeks – under the weight of coronavirus (COVID 19) lockdown – the proliferation of cardboard signs in streets and roadways across the United States declaring Black Lives Matter and announcing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ have elevated the role of cardboard in the cultural landscape from artifact of consumerism or signal of depraved urban poverty/displacement to that of the 21st century papyrus. More accurately, cardboard is quality material on which the highest ideals and hopes of a society are articulated through writing. In this moment equity, justice, and accountability are demands pouring out on streets and byways through the writings on cardboard.

It is serendipitous that the brown appearance of cardboard correlates with the brown (to Black) skin color of the African American and African Diaspora these signs express a desire to save from the litany of harm U.S. society has for four hundred years ceremoniously turned a blind eye. The cultural performance of cardboard signage has reached across international waters, with France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, and the United Kingdom showing their alliance with Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and in response their own issues around racism and policing. The cardboard has become the material of choice on which the language of protest is made present.

Health care workers and others marching last week in Seattle.

For more than a decade I have developed art work inspired by cardboard used by many of the homeless to announce their situation of homelessness, ignite voice, acknowledge presence, resist, and exact power in the mundane landscape of the everyday.  See below:

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