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In the News: Artist's Flag Goes International
Submitted by molly on Thu, 2012-07-05 09:43
from the Iowa City Patch.
Does the right wing have a monopoly on the American flag?
Iowa-native Sam Gassman thinks so. And his latest piece of art being unveiled in London today aims in part to reverse that.
Gassman came to the University of Iowa earlier this summer to work on the piece — a giant flag featuring text of a speech about gay marriage by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Instead of 50 stars, Gassman’s flag — made from repurposed T-shirts — has one star for each of the almost 200 sovereign nations in the world. Most of the stars are white, but more than 70 are blue to identify countries with inhumane policies against gay citizens. The piece features references to each of the U.S. states that allow gay marriage, including Iowa.
Gassman is donating the piece to the London-based Kaleidoscope Trust and it will be presented today at Westminster Palace as part of World Pride, an international gay pride event in London this summer. Organizers say they’ll ask Clinton to select a spot for the flag to be permanently displayed.
Gassman said Clinton’s speech embedded in the flag is “extremely important,” but didn’t get much U.S. media attention. Clinton delivered the address at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, last December.
“I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country,” Clinton said, according to a State Department transcript.
By flying the flag for a traditionally liberal cause like gay marriage and incorporating international elements, Gassman said he hopes the project helps to undermine the idea of the flag as a conservative symbol.
This isn’t the artist’s first venture into flag art. In 2009, Gassman — who attended UI and now splits his time between Iowa and New York — made an American flag from old grain bags and embedded it with President Obama’s noted 2008 speech about race.
UI art professor Chunghi Choo said the non-traditional canvas of a flag makes sense given Gassman’s versatility.
“His artistic direction changes every year, and he has been working without boundaries of media. Whatever his creative ideas may be, he chooses the right techniques to express them,” Choo said.
On Gassman’s website, he quotes Montgomery Scott about conservatives’ ownership over the flag:
“Somewhere way back when, the right wing decided it belonged to them and turned it into an emblem of oppression, sticking it on their bumpers right next to ‘America right or wrong.’ ... Waving it, putting it out in front of our homes on national holidays, meant we might be embracing America’s foreign policy, its racism, and its sense of its own exceptionalism,” Scott writes.
Indeed, a 2011 Harvard study suggested those who attended Fourth of July celebrations as children are more likely to vote for Republicans later in life. Also last year, University of Chicago researchers said their data showed mere exposure to an American flag could skew a respondent’s voting behavior toward Republicans.
Iowa blogger Shane Vander Hart, though, said conservatives don’t have a monopoly over the flag, nor do they want one. Vander Hart runs the conservative blog Caffeinated Thoughts.
“I look at our flag as a symbol of our freedom, and the sacrifices made to maintain that freedom, not a symbol of a particular ideology or used to make a political point,” Vander Hart said.
But another conservative Iowa pundit, Steve Deace, said the flag represents traditional American values, which are often associated with conservatism.
“It’s clear from their own writings and actions what values and virtues our founders intended the flag to stand for: there is a God, our rights from from Him, and and the purpose of government is to protect those God-given rights,” Deace, a radio show host, wrote in an email. “... If your particular agenda doesn’t reconcile with the American vision, the problem is you, not the vision.”