The US flag is impregnated with meaning, often very personal meaning. We pledge allegiance to it, we wrap ourselves in it, young and old, gay and straight, rich and poor, healthy and diseased, immigrant and native-born acknowledge the flag’s power. One definition of flag is, “become tired, weaker, or less dynamic.” I aim to counter this. Diversity! Flags are dynamic and imbed multiple meanings in viewers. Flag was my entry in ArtPrize 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Flag is a series exploring diversity and identity in America.
Perhaps visitors to the ArtPrize venue space embedded their own meanings in these alternate US flags. Especially potent during an energized social/political year, this is an exploration of American iconography. There is history in the US flag. This series explores its contemporary nature as well as it’s future.
During walks through Detroit I noticed US flags were attached to foreclosed homes, identified sites of murder, and drew attention to areas of Detroit which residents feel have been forgotten by city administration. The flag remains a potent symbol even (perhaps especially) in contrast to the abundant graffiti. The graffiti made me think about the meaning of repeated symbols throughout the neighborhoods. I became aware of their gang affiliation. Structures of all kinds are marked as territory warning outsiders that a group believed they own an area. I was an outsider who had no idea what the particular symbols meant. A niece's husband who had been a Detroit cop for twelve years warned me not to walk in certain areas alone especially after dark, and to absolutely not mark on or alter any of the graffiti. The gang tags showed as flags in the neighborhood. The US flag somehow has lost much of it patriotic meaning and has been replaced by paint.
Still, there was potency in the US flags that were displayed and I wondered if new life could be given to the 200 year old banner. I decided to remove the color, not in disrespect or in an act of draining some power but instead to present the flag as a source of potential. From a distance the White Flag appears just white. With a second (closer) look detail is revealed until finally the underlying design is revealed.
From Detroit to Lansing the White Flag represents the surrender of many to fear, greed and misinformation, on the one hand. And on the other it is a reminder to resist surrender. With the colors stripped away we are left with the essence of the symbol: the original 13 colonies and the stars representing each State. It seems to be a blank canvas ready to be imprinted upon. Its power comes from being recognizable and yet changed so significantly. It's a ‘Freak Flag’.