Flags and Their Many Meanings

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Flags and Their Many Meanings
Art Appreciation
Final Critical Essay
By: Rachelle Goude
April 23, 2005

Critical Essay on God Bless America, Faith Ringgold, What is the Proper Way to Display the American Flag?, Dread Scott Tyler and The World Flag Ant Farm, Yukinori Yanagi.

Flags and their Many Meanings

I will be describing and evaluating the works and artists described above. To begin I will describe each work and its symbolism. I will then summarize the artists and the times of their artworks. Afterwards, I will explain how the works fit into the time period and then compare and contrast all three artworks. To begin, I chose the above artworks because of their symbols, the flag. Each artwork depicts a flag in different forms and for different reasons. The first, God Bless America was painted by Faith Ringgold. The painting's star is depicted as a sheriff's badge and its stripes are in the form of prison bars symbolizing that the United States has turned into a prison. (Sayre, p.20) The white woman in the painting is pledging her allegiance to the flag but in the same breath she is being depicted as a racist denying blacks their civil rights. It is also depicting the struggles that her community and she were facing while trying to gain equal rights from the majority of white Americans. In this oil painting she uses only three colors, black, white and red which are indicative to her other paintings in the series. She uses rectangles and squares to depict the flag, even the woman in the painting has an elongated rectangular appearance to her. The second, What is the Proper Way to Display the American Flag? is an exhibit by Dread Scott Tyler, a minority student at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibit is a 34 by 57 inch American flag on the floor underneath pictures of flag-draped coffins and South Koreans burning flags and holding signs that said "Yankee, go home son of a bitch". There is also a ledger where viewers can write their answers to the question "What is the proper way to display a U.S. flag?" Two problems with the setup of this exhibit where the flag draped on the floor and the placement of the ledger book. Viewers had to decide whether to honor the flag and try to sign the ledger without stepping on the flag, or honor their freedom of speech and just step on the flag. The third, The World Flag Ant Farm, created by Yukinori Yanagi. This is the most interesting of the three works. It is 170 8 by 12 inch boxes filled with colored sand for each nation's flag. The boxes are connected to each other by plastic tubing. Yanagi then placed ants into the exhibit and they immediately began carrying the colored sand between the boxes. This created a mixing of the colors which symbolized "the cross-cultural network of multinational symbols and identities."(Sayre, p.22) On page 22 of A World of Art Yanagi states that the only thing the traveling of the ants shows us is that they travel to resume a task they have been preprogrammed to do, not to acquire freedom. In 1969, the Supreme Court of the United States upholded the Civil Rights Act, giving the African Americans back their rights as American citizens. The United States bombed Vietnam. Three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. All of these "goings-on" contributed to the work of Faith Ringgold. Ringgold's art, at the time, focused on the Civil Rights movement, racism and a divided country because of segregation. She depicted all of this in her God Bless America. I'm not sure I could have survived those times. I am appalled by racism and prejudice. I believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of their skin color or religion or sexual orientation. We were all given the right to freedom… In 1989, the United States Supreme Court ruled that flag burning is a protected right of free speech. The Berlin Wall crumbles thus...
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