Many (detail), 2019. Woven replicas of the Confederate Flag of Truce, installation view. Collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo: Carlos Avendaño

Object Lessons: Sonya Clark

Some people have said to me, “Well, the Confederate battle flag, it’s such a stunning flag—it’s designed to be seen, it’s showy, it has this strong x symbol on it that’s borrowing from the Scottish flag.” But that can’t be the only reason we’re interested in one symbol over another. It can’t just be its design. It’s that one is signaling a change, a loss, a defeat, a surrender, a truce—but let’s not talk about that, let’s keep lobbing up the battle flag and talking about that as pride.

One of the charges of this piece is to amplify something historical. I’m just picking another flag—the Confederate Flag of Truce—and using it for another purpose. My goal is to interrogate this symbol and imagine what would happen if it lives on in our lives.

The original truce flag was divided and divided and divided again. It got deconstructed, and here we have the effort of reconstructing it, of putting it back into the world, in as many different ways as we can. I love its move from domestic space to the battlefield; I love that it’s about its structure, its ability to absorb things and clean things up, and still somehow remain white. I love all the metaphors in that—that it’s to clean up a mess, but maybe it actually never cleaned up a mess. We came to a truce, we put down arms, and the South offered to surrender. But why did we start fighting in the first place? Have we dealt with what this war was actually about? We have a lot of work to do, and some of that work is subtle, and some of that work is grand, but it all has to be done.

“Sonya Clark: Monumental Cloth, The Flag We Should Know” is on view at The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia through August 4.