• Reflections on my recent project: My Story Is My Flag with Oakland International Highschool

    On May 16th I set off on my road trip from Seattle to the Bay Area with my trusty dog, Reginaldo, a few books on flags, camping gear, my back up sewing machine and too many shoes. I always travel with too many shoes. I had a fantastic, peaceful drive down the 101 sleeping in quiet beach towns in Oregon and then under magical ancient Redwood trees with a final night in Mill Valley to help ease the transition into the craziness of the Bay.

    Yet again, the reason for my return to the Bay was all about Flags. Interface Gallery in Oakland approached me to do a social practice / public art piece in the Temescal neighborhood. The project goals were to work with Oakland International High School students and teachers for their post session class (a three week, end of the year intensive) to design 12 banners that would temporarily replace the ones on the light posts on Telegraph Ave. The aim was to have these flags/banners make visible the stories of these students, who most of which are recent immigrants and some refugees.

    We applied for a matching grant with the East Bay Fund for Artists and got it!!  Then we fundraised for the matching amount and met 84 % of our goal. 

    We had 25 students ranging from Freshmen to Seniors. 2 amazing teachers, 1 volunteer and me, the flag dork. The students were asked to contribute to the website with a very active blog, an instagram account as part of their assignments and sketchbook where they worked their ideas out and did writing assignments. As we finalized our banner designs to scale of the street poles (the flags measure 4ft. by 2ft.), students worked collaboratively to create one image that spoke to their collective identity. 

    For most of the students, English is their very recent second language. In our planning discussions, the teachers warned me, language would be a major factor in all aspects of the project. I nodded my head and thought I totally knew what they meant. Into week 2, I could not help but think about my parents and what they must have been like when they came to this country as teenagers from Cuba. They were about the same age as the students involved in this project and also had limited knowledege of the English language, and having lost everything and now navigating a new country with its own set of challenges.  I was especially proud of the student groups who despite their language barriers with each other, created very strong designs. It was very gratifying to see the power of the visual language at work.

    I embarked on this project thinking I understood that this was not about me. That I was a facilitator. Not so. It is a tricky balance to come into a community and be all "lets make my project you guys!!! Come on! We have a grant. Flags! Right! Right? By the way, nice meeting you now lets het to work." Before the end of week one, I was surprised/embarassed by how sensitive I felt to the student's bewilderment about this project. Three weeks is a short amount of time to gain that much trust and to ask for so much in return. I snapped out of the funk and focused on finding ways to engage them. My co-teachers had everything to do with bridging this gap. 

    If anyone knows me or how I work, I have the habit of creating these insanely ambitious projects that always underestimate time, drive me to near insanity and usually some sort of physical pain in the process, peppered with a few anxiety attacks....but regardless I always deliver what I set out to do. ALWAYS. This project was very ambitious. I would never do it the same again for the sake of everyone involved but despite how manic it felt at the time, I am utterly grateful for the opportunity, the willingness and  vulnerability of the students, and the support I had from the community and my friends. I sincerely hope I get the opportunity to do it again and again.

    Here is some press we got through out our project:

    Interview by Katherine Rae Mondo

    East Bay Express!

    Check out our website: MYSTORYISMYFLAG.COM

  • The library grows!

    The library grows!

    Though my life may be crazy hectic right now and it all kind pulls me away from nerding out (which is all I want to do), I still try to find the time to build my rerferences to continue to evolve my learning and understanding about the history of flags. Here are some recent additions to my library. I'm excited to spend time with them once work simmers down. When I shared my excitement about my new purchases with a friend, she mentioned a TedTalk she had recently seen about flag design by Roman Mars. It just so happens the recent purchase I made Good Flag, Bad Flag by Ted Kaye was not only mentioned but used as a reference! This TedTalk was excellent and really delivered the potential power of flags and good flag design. It was also just oh so very comforting to feel a sense of comradery with someone who was fixated on something as random as flags.  I'm enticed to attempt a redesign of San Francisco's flag myself!

  • Vexillologa-ing as access to a language of power?

    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.

  • Work in progress: Perpetuo Dance explained.

    Work in progress: Perpetuo Dance explained.

    This is a developing flag story project. By creating these flags with basic cotton fabric and handcut lame and appropriating the graphic logos of Miami night clubs of the eighties (now long closed), I aim to abstractly tell the story of these sites. As I research the history of each club chosen to be featured in this project, I am finding each story to be all the more telling of how the city of Miami's contemporary character has been deeply affected by deco-aesthetics and the continued influx of immigrant and exile populations to the area. 

    The flags I've made thus far are prototypes for larger pieces I would like to be used for a video- dance performance piece by an auxillary team at each site. With funding, I'd like to collaborate with a team and a choreographer to capture footage that would result in a looping video (hence the perpetual dance) and installation of the hand made flags. 

    Dream big right? Some day....but for now, I'll make my retro flags!

    Read some juicy bits about one of the clubs I feature : SUZANNE'S