Came across this piece in the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It was made by the artist Ken DeRoux. and displayed along with a piece of commentary by Mark Hamilton, a former president of UAF.
The text reads as follows:
Be Afraid, 2005
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
“When I first viewed Ken DeRoux’s ‘Be Afraid,’ it was wrapped up around a cardboard cylinder with bubble wrap, evoking the qualities of both protection and vulnerability I associate with art. As I watched it unfurl, I saw each ‘stripe’ with its symbols or partial quotation revealed as carefully as it was doubtlessly assembled.
“You are seeing it suspended, specifically by safety pins. From an artist who devotes himself to the language of representation – light, shadow, horizon, perspective – I assume purpose for each element of this work.
“Suspend your evaluation for a moment while we look at the language of representation. This is not a flag, it is a banner. Specifically, it is a confederation of ‘banners’ in the newspaper sense of lead quotations. This is cloth, not tapestry. There is no weaving or even binding of the images; they are held together in loose collage by the beautifully ironic safety pins.
“The left edge of the banner is significantly more irregular than the right, suggesting the effects that wind has on a deployed banner. That, in conjunction with the purposeful irregularities in the body of the banner, is effective in portraying an image of embattlement.
“I don’t look at art to ‘figure it out.’ So I don’t pretend that subtle observations were intended by the artist except to the extent that he certainly expected observations. Here are a few observations. The largest quotation, and one of the two written bottom to top as opposed to left to right, is from Condolezza Rice. I suspect the reason for her prominence is that her quote is far more specific in items to fear than the generalized warnings of the other figures. In that sense, her observation has the stark qualities of a symbol, most of which appear at the periphery of the banner. By the way, the only other citation written vertically is also from the State Department. Is this because the execution of foreign policy must take a different, more specific direction than the more generalized ‘slogans’ of elected officials?
I am fascinated by the safety pins. Is our ‘safety’ only possible by considering the compilation of these warnings and symbols? Is our ‘safety’ the coming together symbolized by the clear visual reference to the American flag – the symbol of our Union? On the other hand, do the safety pins represent the current status of our union as a people, as in ‘only held together by safety pins?’
“Despite the title of the work, the symbols do not appear to be aimed at fear. They seem almost cartoon like, as does the sole terrorist figure. It seems to be more a work of inquiry than intimidation, to the point that the title ‘Be Afraid’ could as easily be “Be Aware.’
“The prediction is that this work will be controversial. I think it will be conversational if we enjoin one another to hold our evaluation until we are done thinking.”
University president, retired
(Click to embiggen)