FLAGspace September 2018

Photo by Ellen dahl

Photo by Ellen dahl

Flag-work Re-Work 2018 

Paula do Prado 

I arrived in Sydney on September 4, 1986 as a 7 year old. School taught me a white washed colonialist version of Australian history and that I was always going to be different/other. My parents and I had migrated from Uruguay, a small country in South America that in the mid to late 80s was only just emerging from a brutal military dictatorship that had lasted over 10 years. It wasn’t until I went to art school as a mature aged student that I felt the jolt of realisation, having to acknowledge the trauma I had inherited from where I was born and confront the reality of the ongoing violence that founded the country we had migrated to and now called home.  


Just under 10 years ago I created a series called “Flagwork” which was really a reflection on my growing discomfort about what it meant to be Australian. What did it mean to be an assimilated migrant, black and non-Indigenous in Australia? A public “Sorry” by the then government came and went in February 2008 for the Stolen Generations but the violence against Aboriginal and Torress Strait Islander peoples has never stopped and just continues under new names such as the intervention. I found myself working with the loaded socio-cultural and historical symbolism of the flag as a way to unpack ideas around belonging, the politics of place, power and oppression. I was inspired by works like David Hammons’ “African American Flag”, the Fante Asafo flags from Southern Ghana and works like “Taking back the Stars” by Karla Dickens.  The flag and its historical baggage continues to serve as an important symbol within contemporary art and its reflection of the current socio-cultural-political climate. The famous flag bearing the words “A man was lynched yesterday” which originally flew from the New York office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1920 to 1938 was reinstated in 2016 downtown Manhattan with the addition of two words “A man was lynched by police yesterday”. In Australia the Museum of Contemporary Art and Sydney Airport recently unveiled a major commission by artist Archie Moore titled “United Neytions” an installation of 28 large flags that hang in Sydney Airport International Terminal. 


I am fascinated by the power of the flag, a piece of cloth, that can signal, call masses to attention, symbolise a whole nation and stake a claim as well as surrender. The current flag created for FLAGspace this September is a reworking of a flag-work I made in 2009 titled “Estrella/Star”. It was part of my Honours degree show and subsequently shown as part of “Manifestations of Now” a series of exhibitions and events curated by Sapna Chandu and held at various venues in and around Federation Square in Melbourne in April in 2012. Estrella/Star was an exploration of the tension and conflicting emotions that came with reflecting on my place within multicultural Australian society. The text is serious, sad, ironic, cheerful and the flag itself is bright and celebratory. The text on the original flag reads: 


the stars belong in the sky // bienvenidos // entrar con cuidado (welcome //enter at your own risk) welcome to stolen land you can still celebrate your own culture as long as you speak English and you don’t cause trouble (political) whatever you do don’t talk about race we are very lucky to be here we are happy in our diversity // go team! all together now (sorry) 


Melbourne based University Professor and author, Nikos Papastergiadis wrote about Estrella/Star within a broader discussion of multiculturalism in “Why Multiculturalism Makes People so Angry and Sad” published in Space Place & Culture, 2013.  http://www.futureleaders.com.au/book_chapters/pdf/Space-Place-Culture/Nikos-Papastergiadis.pdf 


This current version of the artwork is now a functional flag with a backing featuring the text “check your privilege” and comes on the 32nd anniversary of my arrival to Australia. I am still unpacking these concepts and emotions, I am in the process of unlearning in order to re-learn. I am decolonising.