In 2014, I was invited by SOMArts then curator, Justin Hoover, to participate in the final exhibition event for Flag Stories: Citizenship, a year long youth art program run by the SOMArts Cultural Center in partnership with the Islamic Art Museum of Malaysia. Though Justin was quite familiar with my work as a performance artist, he also knew of my recent research in Vexilollogy, the history, design and general interest in flags. As a public engagement piece, I staged a workshop area with two tables. I prepared various textile sheets with heat bonding material, stenciling tools, 2 hot irons and a major willingness to nerd out with anyone interested in discussing the weight of the alien term as well as provide basic historical context, technical and conceptual support for those interested in making their own flag for the taking. The response was quite powerful. One local participant made a flag with her own personal mantra as an example to show her patients who were recovering victims of domestic violence. Another Malaysian student made a pocket sized flag that said “NO!” on both sides. She intended to use this as a response to when asked about her traditional headdress, which was often. Frustrated by by dealing with ridiculous and inappropriate questions such as “do you have ears? or “what are you hiding under there?”, she chose to make this flag as a portable yet silent protest that very clearly expressed her unwillingness to engage in such ignorant curiosities about her culture and identity.
My experimental Vexillology workshop showed me the potential of working publicly with the flag form and validated my suspicion/hypothesis/hope.
A. People were really into flags too, most just didn't know it. I mean, it is after all a huge part of our daily visual, cultural and political landscape.
B. Sometimes playing with materials and with what you have at hand can yield surprising, powerful results filled with potential. But without space, time, engagement and access, how does this potential continue to sprout and evolve?
Space, Time, Access….precious things, especially now and especially in the Bay Area.