ESSAY & PHOTOS - Cacy Forgenie: Iron Flag
by Diana McClure
Interdisciplinary artist Cacy Forgenie’s most recent work, Iron Flag (2015), a collaboration with apparel company Le Collektor, takes wearable art to a new level with its material convergence of pop culture, art and critical dialogue in the form of the ubiquitous hoodie.
Forgenie’s conceptual design remixes, re-constructs and perhaps re-co-opts the hoodie from several of its former incarnations. The hood’s design resembles a flag, consists of red and black stripes and rectangular green insets dotted with hashtags, a riff on both history and the present moment.
Commissioned by Le Collektor, a social entrepreneurship company that partners with artists to design removable and interchangeable hoodies, Iron Flag’s design cues rest in the fine art oeuvre of artist David Hammons, the interstellar network of the internet and the grass roots organizing of Black Lives Matter.
Carrying on the color legacy of Marcus Garvey’s early 20th century Pan-African flag - red, black and green - and Hammons’ use of the color scheme in his iconic re-working of the American Flag, African American Flag (1990), Forgenie’s Iron Flag hood cradles the head of its wearers in an ironic history of what it means to be Black in America.
Another work of Hammons’ reflected in the creation of this wearable art object is the piece, In the Hood (1993), a hood jaggedly cut from an ordinary dark green hooded sweatshirt. The piece is usually displayed on a gallery wall with wire inserted through the rim of the hood, framing an invisible face.
In 2001 renowned contemporary art curator Franklin Sirmans wrote, “In the Hood (1993) represents Hammons’ acknowledgement of the symbolic power of the everyday object and its utilitarian value. The absence of the body is equally prescient here.” Nearly 15 years later, in the wake of Trayvon Martin and countless others, Sirmans’ statement carries an eerie currency in our current socio-political climate.
Forgenie’s work pushes Garvey’s, Hammons’ and Sirmans’ conversation forward by positioning his work squarely within the politics of our time and our hyper social media environment, specifically Twitter activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. His purposeful placement of 50 hashtag symbols on the Iron Flag hood displaces the 50 stars found on the American flag. In play with a red, black and green color palette, the hashtags specifically echo online social media movements that raise critical awareness around social justice issues, fundraise for legal defense funds or aid in communications strategies for localized protests. Twitter campaigns for Marissa Alexander and #SayHerName come to mind here.
Forgenie’s open-ended interplay of historical references, politicized contemporary art and technological trends, within the democratic cultural context of fashion, suggests a blurring of boundaries and a creative take on individual agency and the power to contribute.
Agency is also found in Le Collektor’s interactive take on the embodiment of hoods, their interchangeability and removability, a statement that empowers both the wearer and the artist. Code-switching and identity mash-ups so prevalent in contemporary culture today all collide in this design cue.
As many of us await the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, works like Iron Flag extend its reach and give it life in new arenas and contexts just as the legacies of Garvey’s UNIA and Hammons’ bold artistic statements continue to resonant in society today.
After years in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and years flying high at the entrance to the Studio Museum in Harlem, Hammons’s African American Flag is front and center at the 2015 Greater New York exhibition at MoMA PS 1, a highly anticipated quinquennial exhibition of contemporary art.
The raising of Hammons’s flag in October 2015 at PS 1, along with the removal of the Confederate flag at South Carolina’s State House in July 2015, are both symbolic gestures of solidarity with a difficult and complex moment of human rights abuses in American life, a moment also embodied in Forgenie’s work Iron Flag.
 One Planet Under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art, exhibition catalog 2001, The Bronx Museum of Contemporary Art, pg. 28-29