The Medium Is the Message: Flags and Banners in East and West

The Wende Museum
The Armory, Culver City, California
May 16, 2021 - October 16, 2021

Copyright Jan Sawka



With their colorful surfaces and clear-cut symbols and images, flags and banners are effective carriers of unambiguous messages. At parades, party conventions, and demonstrations they convey a sense of political purpose and group identity. In the communist countries, flags symbolically represented the various organizations, institutions, and collectives that were considered the pillars of society. However, flags and banners can take on other, countercultural meanings as well. In the late 1980s, political dissidents cut out the socialist symbols at the center of the East German, Hungarian, and Romanian national flags. Polish artist and activist Jan Sawka, who collaborated with the Grateful Dead on an art installation after his emigration to the United States, painted communist flag–inspired artworks to make a political statement. Various contemporary artists reference or use flags and banners to express more complex ideas. In this exhibition, the Wende Museum’s unique collection of Soviet Bloc flags will be paired with contemporary artwork, showcasing a wide range of uses for this medium.