I have created through my “Reimagined American Flags Series” visual representations of my perspective on three major issues in the US today that bother me: 1) problems with xenophobia, bigotry, and anti-immigration policies; 2) the disproportionate killing of innocent African American men, women, and children; and 3) the unprecedented deaths due largely to unregulated access to not just handguns but also military-grade AK 47 assault rifles. These flags are intended to stimulate constructive conversations on various ways to be patriotic. I hope they also stimulate individual insights about why and how we should be more humane with one another. I have reimagined three American flags that not only I believe in but also may inspire solutions to how we can make the US a safer place for all its citizens to live out their lives fully. The size of the original oil paintings on canvas are 4′ .5″ x 9′.
All Lives Matter Flag
In keeping the overall structure of the American flag, I convey the diversity within the US by incorporating the world’s flags and the phrase “All Lives Matter.” With this integration, I both symbolize our nation’s internal diversity and criticize its hypocritical xenophobia. This also illustrates that words matter. The change from “Black” to “All” in the phrase “All Lives Matter” shifts attention away from the just concerns of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. This change in wording raised for me, however, the “red flags” of xenophobia, anti-immigration policies, and discrimination against others based on nationality, ethnicity, and race. This flag visually represents the “tossed salad” rather than “melting pot” metaphor as more appropriate for the distinct cultural, ethnic, and racial identities in the US. I also wanted to show that we are made up of people from all nations and yet also experience some “melting” or integration with one another. I conveyed this as well with the shared colors of some of the flags blending seamlessly into their neighboring flags. I created an American flag that I can believe in.
Black Lives Matter! Flag
After the Baltimore uprisings, I painted a “Black Lives Matter” flag. The black and white stripes symbolize our nation’s major racial divide. The “50 shades of black” stars represent diversity within the African-American community. Names of African-American women and men are integrated into the stripes. Red names indicate those who were killed or assassinated before they could fully live their lives. Black and white names commemorate those who have made their mark in many ways. The red Y in the center asks “Why” is this still happening? Declares “Why Black Lives Matter!” And symbolizes the gesture “Hands up don’t shoot!” Just below the “V” is the only Caucasian who merited being put on the flag. Abraham Lincoln was the first president who, over 150 years ago, decided that black lives mattered by freeing the slaves and was assassinated as a result. The flag’s design both asserts that black lives matter and names those whose lives have deeply mattered in US culture along with those whose lives have been tragically cut short. This juxtaposition provokes the question: What could have Tamir Rice, and others like him, contributed had they been given the chance to live their lives?
I believe that the racism at the foundation of the Civil War of the 1860s was never resolved. And the goals of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s were never completed. So here we are today still dealing with some failures of both. Now with so many supporting the Black Lives Matter movement we have a chance for meaningful change for a better future for African Americans, which I believe is fundamentally better for the future of all people in the US. I have reimagined an American flag that not only I can believe in but also I hope can inspire a meaningful dialogue and vision about how we can make the US a safer place for all its citizens to live out their lives fully.
Don’t Lives Matter? Flag
This US flag symbolizes lives lost due to gun violence. Alternating the stripes in orange and yellow symbolizes the colors we use to indicate safety (so that people don’t shoot you in the woods) and caution (once someone has already been shot). The stars in “50 shades of red” represent the pain, suffering and grief as well as anger, rage, and despair people experience having lost loved ones. Integrated into the stripes, the dates, place names, and numbers of deaths from mass shootings from 1966-2016 to illustrate how greater access to military-grade weapons has led to more massacres. The Xs quote the X-code FEMA used on houses during the Katrina disaster to indicate from left going clockwise the following information: 1) the rescue unit #, 2) date investigated, 3) what was found, and 4) # of survivors and dead. The numbers in the Xs on this flag indicate from left going clockwise the following information: 1) the number of survivors (in black), 2) the total number of casualties (in black, not including the perpetrators), 3) the number of innocent people killed (in red), and 4) the number of perpetrators (in black if survived, in red if killed or committed suicide). One bullet begins the sequence in the upper left corner and three bullets form an ellipsis at the end indicating the inevitability of more mass shootings in our future without any substantive efforts to control guns or improve gun safety in the US.