This African-American flag was designed and created by black artist David Hammons in 1990, the same year that the first black mayor of New York City, David Dinkins, took office.
The flag is a significant piece done by an artist with a deep commitment to Civil Rights and the Black Power Movement.
Hammons was inspired by the already existing Amercian flag and the Pan-African flag adopted by the Marcus Garvey Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (ACL) in 1920. The Pan-African flag was created in response to a popular song of the era that had the line “Every Race Has A Flag But The Coon“.
Hammons fused the two flags to stir up a conversation about the history behind the American flag as well as the mixed messages it sends about our history. The inspiration was triggered by the Watts Riots which took place in Los Angeles in the summer of 1965.
The flag was a way to address the unspoken answers to the questionable mistreatment of black people in America. It provides a sense of pride and affirms that being black and American are the same thing.
The colors of the flag; red, black and green hold significant meanings. They represent blood, skin tone and the life that the ancestors of the African-Americans forced into slavery were made to leave behind. The flag is a strong political statement for the black community.
A version of the flag flies proudly on Juneteenth and the Fourth of July in many black communities. The original flag is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA). Through this flag, Hammons helped raise racial awareness in the USA.
Hammons was born in 1943 is the youngest of ten kids born in Springfield, Illinois to a single mother after his father died. When he was 19 years old, he moved to Los Angeles to attend Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts). He was part of the pioneering group of the African-Amercian artists and Jazz musicians in Los Angeles.
Much of his work reflects his commitment to the Black Power movements. A good example is the early Spade With Chains (1973), where Hammons uses the provocative, derogatory term, coupled with the literal gardening tool to make a visual pun between the blade of a shovel and an African mask, and a contemporary statement about the issues of bondage and resistance. It is part of a larger series of “Spade” works in the 1970s, including Bird (1973), where Charlie Parker is portrayed as a spade emerging from a saxophone, and Spade (1974) where the artist pressed his face against the shape leaving a caricature-like imprint of black features. His painting Black First, America Second (1970) is two images of himself being wrapped into the American flag: his black self and his American self. These two identities that he has are split and fundamentally at odds.
His works are simple yet powerful with a forward-thinking message for everyone that sees them.
His work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain, Paris; The Tate, London; and other museums and collections around the world.