Banner image: Alejandra Abad and Román Anaya, collaboratively known as Abad◮Anaya, pose draped in hand-colored fabrics. (Credit: Alejandra Abad and Román Anaya)
In January 2021, expect a visual feast as flags of all fabrics and sizes are waved from a variety of vehicles as they cruise along Santa Fe Drive in Denver as part of Flags of Hope | Banderas de Esperanza.
The new year’s art project and its accompanying public art motorcade are the result of work by two CU Boulder graduate students and artists: Alejandra Abad and Román Anaya, collaboratively known as Abad◮Anaya.
Safely distanced from each other, Abad and Anaya will join this celebratory event to share phrases of hope in multiple languages that have been printed, painted, sewn and ironed onto flags by the community. People will wave, clap and cheer as they are uplifted in speaking their mind and honoring their identity.
“We have to create spaces that allow for the spirit of humanity to thrive, and not separation,” said Abad, an MFA candidate in art and art history and Interdisciplinary Media Arts Practices, who was motivated to do the project to combat both the social isolation caused by COVID-19 and the rising political division during an election year.
And with so many cultural spaces, art walks and museums shut down, she saw a real need for people to come together in a safe way.
The two artists will use flags to artistically represent people’s hopes and dreams as a way to reclaim flags from being divisive symbols about the past and present, and allow them to embody a more inclusive future. Through December, the community is asked to submit their messages of hope online and even to help create flags.
Not only will these fabric expressions of hope fly down Denver’s streets one day this winter, they will be hung outside storefronts along the Art District on Santa Fe in January, and in downtown Boulder in February at Boulder One Plaza and online through a virtual experience, as Our Wishes | Nuestros Deseos.
“I think it's perfect timing for us to share these really hopeful messages that people are giving us, and to start on a more positive note in 2021,” said Anaya, also an MFA candidate in Interdisciplinary Media Arts Practices. “With these flags we can amplify hope and usher in a new year with wonderful diversity.”
The perfect stage
Once they had settled on the concept of reclaiming flags, Abad and Anaya knew they not only had to get local communities engaged for the project to succeed, they had to find a way to display these creations. Luckily, Denver has the perfect stage to try these things, according to Shaina Belton, president of the Art District on Santa Fe (ADSF).
While ADSF is the oldest certified art district in Colorado, it has had quite a tough time due to the pandemic, according to Belton.
“This project felt like a great first step in engaging the public back with the community in a safe way. Installing the flags will help breathe life back into the community but also reinvent what Santa Fe can look like and how people interact with it,” she said.
Art District on Santa Fe is one of a group of community partners that glue Flags of Hope and Our Wishes together and catalyze engagement with the community. Museo de Las Américas will help distribute free flag-making kits in the community in December and support programming with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, which will use the flags as writing prompts for online bilingual writing programs and workshops.
RedLine Contemporary Art Center has also been pivotal to the success of this pandemic project through its call Checking In, which matches artists with sites around the community in order to fund and display their work.
“Redline is removing barriers to seeing and being impacted by the tremendous artwork that’s happening right now in response to the pandemic,” said Simone Groene-Nieto, communications and media manager at Museo de Las Américas.
Earlier this fall, Groene-Nieto noticed that Abad had pitched her idea both to Museo and to Redline. A few easily convincing phone calls later, she had Redline, ADSF and others on board to support the work.
Accessible and amplified
Abad is also excited about the third exhibition of this work, which will be virtual. The idea is that someone on a smartphone, anywhere in the world, will be able to “walk” through a virtual space and see the flags displayed like they would be in a real park or gallery space.
The artists plan to make the online installation surprising and fun to navigate, like a treasure hunt. It might even include surprises or hidden items to discover, like audio recordings of poems from the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. It can also be updated as Abad and Anaya receive additional messages through the online submission form, enticing viewers to visit more than once.
Accessibility is a central theme for Abad and Anaya’s collaboration—and a huge part of accessibility is language. When she was a child, Abad’s family immigrated to Florida from Venezuela. She noticed as she grew up that knowing a language better than another person signified a kind of power.
“And the immigrant is always made to believe that they have to erase their identity and forget their language,” said Abad.
In making the flags bilingual, Abad and Anaya make clear that this work is by and for the people whose voices need to be amplified—it’s not just about them.
Abad learned more about how to apply the tools of her academic discipline to a community project as a participant in the Office for Outreach and Engagement’s Engaged Arts and Humanities Graduate Student Scholars, a unique program that supports and funds this work.
Project funding came from a 2020-21 office Micro Grant. The project also has received generous support from community partners, including Museo de Las Americas, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA), Art District on Santa Fe (ADSF), RedLine Contemporary Art Center, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and participation from the Denver lowrider community.
“As artists, we want to utilize this platform for good. We want to spread love, and we want to spread positivity. We want to provide a voice for people that might not feel like they have a voice, and then spread them out in the community,” said Anaya.