Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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« Visual Arts Education, Liberty, and Protection | Main | Reflection, Play, and Growth »

July 30, 2018

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in Images of the Unites States Flag

From Dr. Patty Bode

My fourth and final blog post for the month of July extends the discussion about iconography of the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty. This post focuses mostly on the flag imagery. Each of my posts this month has considered the NAEA mission to advance “visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” By building on the dialogue and inquiry that I hoped to generate in the first three posts, I invite readers here to consider questions with their students such as: What are flags for? Do flags unite or divide a society? Which flags get sanctioned or recognized? Which flags go unrecognized? Can we make a list and a visual catalogue of flags that represent diverse voices such as the LGBTQ rainbow flag, the flag of Native Nations in our region, the Black Nationalist flag, the Black Lives Matter banner? Which flags get driven underground? How can our classrooms, museum education studios and community sites consider the multiple perspectives of the United States flag while cultivating respectful speaking and listening in democratic dialogue? (See July 2 blog post “Global understanding amidst flag waving” for more inquiry-based strategies).

Given NAEA’s revitalized commitment to issues of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion through the leadership of the NAEA Task force on Art “ED & i,” this post asks readers to consider a handful of images of the US flag that assert diverse voices and perspectives. These images and the resources included here may provide means to transform art education curriculum with deliberate inclusive strategies that move us closer to our goal of equitably fulfilling human potential.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.08 AM

Fig 1. Image credit: Inge Grødum / Aftenposten. This political cartoon depicting Donald Trump as a brutal sheriff glaring at sorrowful detained children was printed in the June 20, 2018, issue of Aftenposten, Norway’s largest printed newspaper.  Retrieved from

Fig. 2. Children peek through the border wall fence along the US-Mexico border wall at Border Field State Park in San Diego. (Reuters / Mike Blake) The Nation. Retreieved from

These two newspaper images of the US flag that appropriate its stripes as bars of imprisonment address the current crisis of children being separated from their families (which was more thoroughly addressed in my two previous blog posts). Art historian and cultural critic, Beck Feibelman compares the atrocities of Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s caged performances in his article “Artists Warned Us: Children in Cages Will Be Treated Like Animals” posted in online The Clyde Fitch Report which self describes “Arts and politics are wedded ideas indispensable to the fabric and soul of society.”

Those two images may be compared to a collection of images below from artists representing a diverse collection of voices, from varying social positions, across multiple decades, using an assortment  media. Rather than provide my own interpretation of each piece, I post each image followed by some teaching resources. In Blog 1, I provided an overview of inquiry-based strategies for dialectical classroom engagement, which could be useful when studying these with your students. I end this post with an art project by a high school art teacher and her students.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.17 AMJaune Quick-to-See Smith. I see red. McFlag. 1996.

For teaching resources, see Quick-to-See Smith’s web site.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum provides rich teaching resources featuring Quick-to-See Smith’s work, including a captivating video. 

Garth Greenan Gallery in New York, which represents Quick-to-See Smith’s work  provides this one-page PDF, which could be useful as a classroom hand out.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.25 AMBarbara Kruger. Untitled (questions). 1991.

Teaching resources about Barbara Kruger and her work can be found on the Art21 web site including a photo of this piece “Untitled (Questions)” shown above as an installation (Mary Boone Gallery 1991. Courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York. © Barbara Kruger). Additional resources can be found at the MoMA web site showcases the range of exhibits, installations and online engagements of Kruger.

For more recent work, see The New Yorker article about Kruger’s 2017 installation pieces for the Performa biennial. For example, several of her questions, such as “Who owns what?” are printed on red vinyl decals wrapping around the ramps at the skatepark in Coleman Square Playground.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.34 AMNacho Becerra. Mexican-American flag. 2014. Retrieved from: //

Becerra, whose full name is Jose Becerra Marquez, explained in a 2014 interview, “After hearing about the “Immigration Reform” I chose to use the sarape because to me it’s colors represent all the different people that would like to be “legal” in this beautiful and abundant country.” That interview with Becerra may be discussed in the classroom and compared to other interviews featuring the artists in this post. We can ask, why do some artists gain more attention by the press, galleries and museums? How do issues of equity, diversity and inclusion influence what we see as art and what gets promoted, propagated and circulated? 

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.43 AMEsther HernandezLibertad. 1976. Retrieved from  //

Hernandez discussed this piece with Latinopia,

I created “Libertad” while I was a student at UC Berkeley back in 1976. It was the American Bi-Centennial. So I felt I would be fun to turn that upside down and tell another story in terms not just of the country of the United States but also the statue of Liberty and sort of reclaiming the Americas is how I saw it. So I ended up re-carving the Statute of Liberty into a Mayan sculpture, and I put Aztlán on the bottom, sort of reclaiming the Americas as brown (2010).

Students will be inspired by hearing from Hernandez in her own words in this brief video from Citizen Films in San Francisco where she discusses her commitment to community engagement and her work.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.50 AMHowardena Pindell. Separate But Equal Genocide: Aids. 1991-2.

Earlier this year, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presented the first major survey of her work titled, Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen. Also, the 2018 traveling retrospective of Pindell’s work was reviewed in the Winter 2018 issue of Art News, and that article which also provides a succinct biographical overview of her career.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York provides resources for teachers about Pindell’s work. For example, see the MoMALearning page for classroom resources about her piece “Free, White and 21” including a link to her video-performance piece, and a link to an interview. 

Further research. There are hundreds of examples of the US flag being appropriated in artistic statements.  This could be a fascinating research assignment for students as they uncover imagery and teach one another about their own interpretations and read artists statements. In another article by Beck Feibelman, “American Flag Art Has Better Things To Be Than Patriotic,” he has featured multiple other examples. 

Art-making and studio practices in the art room.   Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.58 AMSeptember 11th Remembrance flag. Amanda Davis, art teacher at Hull High School, Hull, Massachusetts. Collaborative piece by Hull High School students. Mixed media: tissue paper stars and stripes and markers, pencils, watercolors, for student’s individual squares. 5 ft. L X 3 1/2 ft W.

Art teacher, Amanda Davis at Hull High School in Hull, Massachusetts, led students in a project that recognizes and honors individual student voice, and identity while responding to community connections. The students were intrigued and inspired by the story of the National 9/11 flag, which was famously salvaged from the wreckage World Trade Center, and featured in much of the visual culture surrounding the events of September 11, 2001.  Then seven years later, the tattered flag was sent throughout the United States to be patched up with pieces of the US flags from around the country.  In the students’ Hull High School flag, each student's individual square represents their idea of what it means to be American.  Then the students put together each piece to form the whole flag to represent the idea collaging together many voices in one community, and the strength of diverse perspectives in one country.

Ultimately if the US flag represents what it means to be American – or to participate in the democracy of US society – there will certainly be multiple interpretations and understandings of those experiences. While there may be some who see these diverse images as unpatriotic, my series of blog posts asserts that full participation in a democratic society requires listening to multiple voices and speaking one’s world view, which can cultivate more global understanding. As art educators we have an opportunity to demonstrate that art making and community engagement holds steadfast to democratic ideals that are in alignment with the most treasured tenets of the United States greatest protections.

Exceptional thanks to Amanda Davis and her students at Hull High School in Hull, Massachusetts.


Special thanks for crowd-sourcing imagery and conceptual frame work via facebook to Rachel ArmentanoJeff Broome, Sarah Clendenin,  Kate Collins, Jason CoxAmanda Davis, Alice Gentili, Lillian Lewis,  Jorge Lucero, Mindy Nierenberg, Teresa Partridge, Julia Katz Terry, and Amy Wolpin of  Badass Teachers Association.



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