For Whom It Stands
A "Top 10 Must-See Exhibit This Summer"
- USA Today
Best Historical Exhibition 2014 - Baltimore Magazine
May 17, 2014 – February 28, 2015
Who is the flag for?
This exhibition chronicles the communities and individuals who pointedly have asked the question: for whom does the flag stand? From pride to protest, the flag of the United States has been used to express the views of the nation's people. Most recently, people of diverse backgrounds have rallied around the slogan that “Black Lives Matter.” In these demonstrations and protests, the U.S. flag has once again emerged as an icon for expressing anger, turmoil, and even despair. This resurgence of flag-based images challenges the contention that there is “liberty and justice for all.”
In this exhibition, more than 100 works of flag-based art, artifacts, documents, and photographs reflect the breadth of American engagements with the U.S. flag. For Whom It Stands: The Flag and the American People was curated by Dr. Michelle Joan Wilkinson.
Listen to highlights of works in the show. First aired on Humanities Connection of the Maryland Humanities Council on WYPR.
Having trouble with the audio? Download here.
Fabric of History
A fragment of the original Star-Spangled Banner serves as a starting point to the exhibtion. While many Americans learned that Betsy Ross was the maker of the nation’s first flag in the 1770s, that portion of flag history continues to be debated due to lack of substantive documentation. In Maryland, during the War of 1812, flag maker Mary Pickersgill sewed the original Star-Spangled Banner in a house on the same city block as the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Before becoming a national icon, the flag was worked on also by Grace Wisher, a young African American indentured servant in Pickersgill’s household. Wisher’s story is little known. This exhibition notes Wisher’s contribution as it investigates the broader history and representation of the United States flag as an icon of our nation and its people.
A section dedicated to controversial interpretations of the flag includes The People's Flag Show by Faith Ringgold, a seminal artist in the canon of flag art. The work was created to advertise an exhibition for which she and two other artists were arrested shortly after the show opening. Gordon Parks' American Gothic, a sobering portrait of a woman in front of the flag, with a broom in one hand, and mop in the other, is a biting riff on Grant Wood's famous work of the same name.
The flag carries deep meaning for war veterans, new immigrants, everyday people, and entertainers called upon to perform the national anthem. The Veteran is a mixed media work on skateboard by Rafael Colón, a self-taught Puerto Rican artist. A Tribute to New York City sculpted by Israeli-American Dalya Luttwak sits in the same show as Prayer Rug for America , by the Arab American, Helen Zughaib. Military history is included here. For the first time, items from the museum's L. Albert Scipio Collection of minority military artifacts will be on display.
For Whom It Stands includes a sound installation featuring pivotal interpretations of “The Star-Spangled Banner” anthem.
Relaunch on September 10, 2014
On September 10, the exhibition relaunches with seven additional objects. Among them is a remarkably well-preserved parade flag of the 'Buffalo Soldiers' from the 1880s. Other notable items include a painting that hung in President Lyndon B. Johnson's bedroom. “Untitled painting of a black woman sewing an American flag” by O. Vereisky was kept close by the president as he presided over the era of the Civil Rights Movement.Related Programming
- Oral History Performance "O Say Can You Feel" Stories Inspired by National Flags
- Companion Exhibition For Whom It Stands TOO
- Artist-in-Residence Sheila Pree Bright
What People are Saying
Named one of nation's "Top 10 Must-See Exhibits This Summer" - USA Today
“We discussed the many collaborative opportunities the exhibition presents, and I am personally delighted that our museums can work together to enrich the stories of our flag and explore its role in contemporary life.”
–Annelise Montone, former Executive Director of The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House
“The Reginald F. Lewis Museum is taking a leadership role in mounting this exhibition. We want to expand the historical narrative about whom the flag represents and share the contemporary contexts of its lived meanings.”
–Dr. Michelle Joan Wilkinson, Curator of For Whom It Stands
“This exhibition promises to make important connections between the flag as an artifact of history and as a living symbol of our national identity. On the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner, the museum has assembled an impressive collection that will inform and inspire visitors of all ages.”
–Dr. Brent D. Glass, Director Emeritus, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
“Since 2005, the museum has provided a strong presence in the community and I believe that this exhibition will enhance Maryland’s cultural arts landscape.”
-Delegate Melony G. Griffith
* This project and exhibition has been financed in part with State Funds from the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, an instrumentality of the State of Maryland. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. Sheila Pree Bright's residency is in collaboration with the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House.