Sunday, June 4, 2017

David Hammons | African-American Flag

David Hammons
African-American Flag
Self-published, 1990
dyed cotton
56 ½ x 87 ¼"
Edition of 5

The racial slur 'coon' gained popularity through use in a series of ragtime songs dubbed 'coon songs' in the late 1800's. The abhorrent 'coon songs' portrayed blacks as unmarried, promiscuous, libidinous and prone to violence. The genre became so popular in the US that songwriters would add the word to preexisting songs, to cash in on the craze.

One of three songs cited as "firmly establishing the term coon in the American vocabulary" is Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon, by Will A. Heelan, and J. Fred Helf. The 1900 hit inspired the creation of the Pan-African flag twenty years later, proposed by the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. Marcus Garvey, who founded the organization, was quoted as saying:

"Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, "Every race has a flag but the coon." How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can't say it now...."

Journalist Charles Mowbray White, who interviewed Garvey at the time, has asserted that "Garvey said red because of sympathy for the 'Reds of the world', and the Green their sympathy for the Irish in their fight for freedom, and the Black- [for] the Negro."

A UNIA document from 1921, refers to the colour choice as "Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland." More recently, the UNIA has referred to the colours as representing "red: the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation; black: black people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag; and green: the abundant natural wealth of Africa."

In 1990 artist David Hammons produced African-American Flag, which hybridized the colours of the Pan-African flag with the stars and stripes of "old glory".

A couple of weeks ago, on May 18th, one of five examples of the work was offered at auction for the first time. One of the edition is found in the Pizzuti Collection in Columbus, Ohio, and another was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, twenty years ago.

The Phillips auction had a low estimate of $700 000 US and a high estimate of a million dollars. The work sold for more than twice the high estimate - $2,050,000 (including fees).

Kenny Schachter at Art Net news speculates that Hammons himself may have been the consigner.

1 comment:

  1. I believe another is in the old library building of the New School on 13th St.