Arts & Culture

RISD Museum exhibit engages community

Flag represents pUN as part of 16 installations that will be featured nationwide

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2018

Predo Reyes’s latest piece is the eighth part of a 16-part art project. The artist is one of many working on this collaborative venture.

Hanging above Bolt Coffee at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum is Pedro Reyes’ flag “Hands On With A Vision,” the latest installment in “Pledges of Allegiance,” a nationwide art project put on by the New York-based public arts nonprofit Creative Time.

With each opening of the cafe’s heavy doors, the sky-blue flag ripples slightly, revealing more of the image obscured by its folds. The flag’s graphic plays on the recognizable flag of the United Nations, which depicts a similar white emblem centered on a blue background. The emblem on Reyes’ flag reinterprets the UN symbol: An open eye sits in the palm of a hand and is layered in front of a globe that is dissected by longitudinal and latitudinal lines. The flag represents “The People’s United Nations” — “pUN” — which the flag’s placard describes as “an experimental conference developed by the artist” that has brought together individuals from over 160 countries at three meetings.

On the placard, Reyes writes: “This right palm with an eye at the center … has been a symbol of protection across cultures and millennia,” adding that the hand, which is open in salutation, “placed over an orb is meant to signal our mission to protect the planet.”

Reyes’ work is the eighth installment of a collaborative compilation of 16 flags, which will be on display at museums nationwide through July 31. Other featured artists include Alex Da Corte, Tania Bruguera and Jeremy Deller. The first flag shown at the RISD Museum “Untitled (Dividing Time)” was also displayed at nine other locations across the nation from Sept. 13 through Oct. 11 last year. The number of museums, galleries and institutions hosting installments of the series has increased each month as participants are continuously added to host pieces of the rotating series. In addition to the RISD Museum, California College of the Arts, Texas State Galleries and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell will also display the flags.

On its website, Creative Time states that, in response to the current political climate, the exhibition’s goal is “to inspire a sense of community among cultural institutions, and begin articulating the urgent response our political moment demands.”

“We … thought that this would really be a great way for us to … have a project that kept pace with changing times,” said Dominic Molon, the Richard Brown Baker curator of contemporary art at the RISD Museum. “Pledges of Allegiance” is dynamic in nature, which Molon sees as “something that would … demonstrate how the museum was wanting to engage with the present moment and with the future.”

According to Molon, “Imagine Peace,” the flag by Yoko Ono, was one of the most well received at the RISD Museum. On the flag, bold type reads, “THINK PEACE ACT PEACE SPREAD PEACE IMAGINE PEACE,” against a white backdrop. In the background of a video accompanying “Imagine Peace” on Creative Time’s website, echoing voices recite statements describing their definition of peace. For one speaker, “peace is understanding someone else’s point of view,” while for another, “peace is like a puddle of puppies … or sleeping on a marshmallow.”

Molon considers the museum a place where community members can find “some kind of reflection of what’s going on out there in the world.” “Pledges of Allegiance,” its changing nature and the artists’ messages demonstrate this concept. “Hands On With A Vision” will be on display at the RISD Museum until Feb. 14, while the entire exhibition, “Pledges of Allegiance,” will continue to show through July 31.

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