The Artist: David Hammons
The Territory: West 125th Street, Harlem, New York. The flag flies above The Studio Museum of Harlem.
Medium+Materials: Dyed Cotton, painted wood pole.
The Inspiration: David Hammons African American Flag was created in 1990, the same year David Dinkins was sworn in as the first black mayor of New York City. This period was by no means a time of racial harmony, but it’s safe to say that the political climate in Harlem was much different than that of the 1920s when Marcus Garvey walked neighborhood streets. The flag is a bold declaration of identity- Hammons took the Pan-African color scheme (used by Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association) to communicate the merged sense of duplicity that exists in being Black. For Hammons, producing the flag was not a question of citizenship, but rather an assertion. Being American and being Black are both one and the same, but Hammons – a man whose work was first provoked by the Watts riots- pays homage to his America, his version of history by melding the Black Liberation Flag with the traditional stars-and-stripes. Instead of the red, white and blue color scheme, Hammons uses black, red, and green, which represent skin tone, blood, and the prosperous wealth his ancestors were forced to leave behind. For some, Hammons’ use of Pan-African colors symbolizes not being considered American at all. But no matter your perspective, the flag has become a way to identify Harlem and its connection to both contemporary arts and the diaspora at large.
African American Flag is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art.