Some thoughts on my contribution to this year’s Justseeds CSA, “Earth Protectors: Global Movements against Climate Change.”
I arrived in this country as a five-year old in the 1970s, and one of my earliest political memories was the predominance of the flag throughout the bicentennial celebrations. As is the case in any modern nation, there is a profound contradiction between the lies (and hopes) of the imagined nation, and its reality, and nowhere is this contradiction more apparent than in the symbolism of the flag. I’ve toyed with riffs on the American flag, black ink on black, since the first Iraq War. Inspiration came from seeing Jasper Johns’ flags at the Whitney (I think) years ago, and later Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Questions) or David Hammond’s African-American Flag, or my friend Yolanda Lopez’s Los Siete poster. Or the portrait of Russell Means wrapped in the flag, upside down in symbol of distress. Seeing American flags flying at Indian reservations, perhaps above homes of veterans. Or so many Native artists, like Fritz Scholder, riffing on the flag.
And then there’s the very word “America.” Who claimed this name for this imperial domination, for this vision of Manifest Destiny? As Betita Martinez reminded us, “long before the 1500s the name Maraca, Amaracapa, and even Amerikamique, could be found for an area stretching from the Caribbean to Venezuela to Brazil… Just how and when “America” may have evolved from those indigenous names remains unknown. But we do know that whatever its exact history, under Spanish and Portuguese rule, the name came to represent invasion and bloody conquest for native peoples.”
This is my modest take on that (re)imagination of the flag. The stars had to be the real constellations and a Milky Way that’s become extinct in most urbanized areas, with the north star of the Underground Railroad at the top. The stripes would be drips below, either blood or oil or both, and I toyed for a while with how to show the roots of the ancient American seas that became our subterranean rivers of crude oil, before abandoning that idea. The teepees from the Standing Rock camp came later, grounding this idea of “America” between sky and soil.
It was drawn in ink with my usual Uni-ball Micro, than adapted in Photoshop, vector-traced in Illustrator, and printed with a split-font of purple, black and red at Mission Gráfica in San Francisco.