Flag Day

Pledge allegiance to powerful arts projects

"I wanted to reach out to artists who fit into the 'if you build it they will come,' zeitgeist," artist Thais Mather tells SFR. "I was looking for artists that created DIY movements in their communities, to give those communities something unique— something brilliant and beautiful."

She's referring to Flags of Resilience, an ongoing series of commissioned works—namely, 3-by-5-foot flags created by artists from near and far—sponsored by and sold through form & concept gallery (435 S Guadalupe St., 780-8312) and Zane Bennet Contemporary Art. The original idea, Mather says, came about in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a means for artists to consider its implications to humankind alongside longstanding issues of racism and oppression brought to a particularly intense head of late following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police and Ahmaud Arbery by white supremacists—among countless others. Any proceeds made from sales go to the cause of the artists' choice, and subsequent artists are chosen by the last featured solo person or group to design a flag.

"We asked artists of color, female artists, queer artists, graffiti artists and tattoo artists to create a different narrative around the symbol of a flag with us," Mather explains. "The flag is loaded, right? I always like to subvert icons and challenge people with new concepts."

So far, the series has featured work by Denver-based muralists Jaime Molina and Pedro Barrios, who together create under the moniker The Worst Crew. They released their flag in July, and for their cause, Barrios and Molina chose the Denver branch of the International Rescue Committee, a worldwide nonprofit that helps the displaced through monetary and direct actions—notably, within 72 hours of a crisis.

"Our concept wasn't to memorialize in the sense of loss, but more to illustrate and document the important moment we are all currently living in," the artists say in an interview on the form & concept site. "When the lockdown first started several months ago, we felt like there was much potential for us to have a massive collective shift. Everyone was faced with hardship as well being stripped of their routines and, in a sense, their lifestyles. This drastic change forced people to see through to what was most important to them and their families."

For the project's next featured artist, Barrios and Molina chose Brooklyn-based creator, tattooer and activist Tamara Santibanez. Working within the talavera style, which is more often associated with ceramics, Santibanez's flag features deceptively simple and colorful designs that ride the fence between talavera and traditional tattoo imagery. The words "A Future" are emblazoned across its center. For Santibanez, the future's worth fighting for, even if it's a particularly fraught topic at the moment. It's an election year. The world's on fire. People are terrified. What hope is even left?

"I've found myself looking more towards sci-fi and speculative fiction in the last year, and the idea that working towards a new and better world first requires imagining something that doesn't exist," she tells SFR. "Envisioning a future can be the first step in radically reconsidering our contemporary actions. I wanted the idea of future to be a hopeful one, but to also make space for the reality that 'future' is not a static concept or a singularly defined idea. 'Future' can look like many different things depending on who is doing the imagining, and can be responsive to our changing selves and realities."

Given Barrios and Medina's take on the present, it's an apt continuation of Mather's project and, looking deeper, a closer look at the America known to its non-white denizens who so often wind up marginalized. A flag is indeed loaded, even if it's become akin to background noise at this point. By shaking up our preconceived notions about what they might stand for, deconstructing their meaning feels decidedly radical.

"Flags of Resilience is creating new imagery, new iconography, new concepts around what it means to be American," Mather says.

Today, right now—and for the foreseeable future at least, all Americans share the pandemic. Quarantine has been a bit of a socio-economic leveler—though someone recently told me "We're in the same storm, not the same boat," and that felt wise. Maybe it's just that we've all been trying better to take care of others lately, and though the conditions may change from place to place, we now all know a thing or two about quarantine. Mix that with Santibanez's talavera design, one which she says often conjures deeply personal images and a sense of home, and there's a lot more to unpack than a quick glance at a small flag.

"Quarantine certainly had me thinking differently about the concept of home, but also about the divide between interior and exterior spaces," Santibanez says. "I felt like it made me hyper aware of my interior world and what I connected with outside of it—socializing, walking, seeing neighborhoods other than my own—there is a certain comfort in talavera for me that does have to do with its ubiquitousness in Mexican households and interior design."

Proceeds from Santibanez's flag will go to F2L (Freedom to Live), a New York-based nonprofit that raises commissary bucks for incarcerated LGBTQIA2+ people in New York State.

Flags are available in the gallery or at formandconcept.center.

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