As politics are becoming increasingly personal during the current election season, I’ve begun to think about how color can be employed to communicate messages of political protest. While there are many examples of this, one of the first that comes mind is David Hammons African American Flag. Using the motif of the standard, contemporary American flag, the alternative red, black, and green color scheme is based on that of the Pan-African flag, created by the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1920.

The UNIA was founded by Marcus Garvey in 1914 with the mission of establishing solidarity among blacks around the world, with a substantial portion of their activity taking place in the US. The Pan-African flag was created in response to the abhorrently titled popular song of the 1900’s, “Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon.” It grew to become a symbol of Black pride, and was widely used during the Black Liberation movement of the 1960’s.

Through applying the alternative color scheme to the iconic stars and stripes, Hammons claims ownership of the symbol of a nation that once claimed ownership of an entire race of people to which he belongs. Given the recent onslaught of unchecked police violence against blacks (leading to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement) and the resurgence of white nationalists and KKK members in the political spotlight, it is clear that the legacy of slavery lives on, and there is still much work to be done towards achieving social justice and racial equality.

Hammons’ African American Flag is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and was recently featured in the Greater New York exhibition at MoMA PS1.



Disruptive Color | 2016 | Editorial