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University Censors ‘Desecrated’ American Flag Artwork After Republican Politicians Call It ‘Disrespectful’

Josephine Meckseper’s paint-spattered flag was the last installment in Creative Time’s ‘Pledges of Allegiance’ series of protest banners

Josephine Meckseper, Untitled (Flag 2), 2017. Courtesy: the artist and Creative Time

Josephine Meckseper, Untitled (Flag 2), 2017. Courtesy: the artist and Creative Time

Josephine Meckseper, Untitled (Flag 2), 2017. Courtesy: the artist and Creative Time

Following complaints from Republican politicians, the University of Kansas has removed an artwork by Josephine Meckseper – a defaced American flag – from display. The German artist’s Untitled (Flag 2) (2017) was the final installment in New York public art nonprofit Creative Time’s ‘Pledges of Allegiance’ series of protest banners.

A spokesperson for Creative Time told frieze: ‘Art has a responsibility to drive hard conversations. ‘Pledges of Allegiance’ was begun to generate dialogue and bring attention to the pressing issues of the day. The right to freedom of speech is one of our nation’s most dearly held values. It is also under attack. We are proud to stand by artists who express themselves.’

The artwork features the American flag, overlaid with a split outline of the country in black, emphasizing ‘a deeply polarized country in which a president has openly bragged about harassing women and is withdrawing from the Kyoto protocol and UN Human Rights Council,’ Meckseper said. It also features a small sock in the bottom-left corner, a symbol which took on added meaning with news of ‘the recent imprisonment of immigrant children at the border,’ the artist has said.

‘The fact that they call it art does not make it any less of a desecration of our flag,’ Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said. State Governor Jeff Colyer called the piece ‘beyond disrespectful […] I spoke to leadership to demand that it be taken down immediately.’ The artwork was taken down from the university’s Spooner Hall, and has been placed in an exhibition at the university’s Spencer Museum of Art instead.

‘There is a long tradition of artists working with the iconography of the flag to allow for new perspectives and interpretations of aesthetics, but also politics to enter a collective discourse. My contribution to ‘Pledges of Allegiance’ comes out of this tradition,’ Meckseper said of her work. ‘I hope that it can contribute to the ongoing discussion of art’s role in society, who we are as a nation, what divides us, and what brings us together.’

Creative Time’s ‘Pledges of Allegiance’ launched last 14 June. Over the course of the year, 16 artists have been commissioned to create flag artworks engaging with political issues. The project launched with a flag by Marilyn Minter, carrying the world ‘RESIST’ – other artists who have contributed include Tania Bruguera and Trevor Paglen. ‘'It’s our fervent hope that ‘Pledges’ inspires others to join us in solidarity, flying these symbols of unity and shared identity on their own grounds and so establishing more such spaces nationwide,’ Creative Time’s then artistic director Nato Thompson commented at the project’s launch.

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