The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag
Artist: John Sims
Date of Action: August 2021
Region: North America
Location: Gettysburg, PA
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: Schmucker Gallery at Gettysburg College, PA
Description of Artwork: “The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag” is an installation piece by Detroit native and multi-media artist John Sims, wherein a Confederate flag is hung from a noose on a gallows. The symbolic work embodies an act of judgment against the history of white supremacy.
The Incident: “The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag” was first shown in September 2004 at the Schmucker Gallery at Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania, where it met with considerable backlash. On that occasion, the flag was to be hung outdoors in front of the gallery. But when community members, including Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association objected, the college insisted Sims move the work indoors.
Results of Incident: Despite the artist’s objections and intervention by NCAC, the flag was hung from a beam in a corner of the gallery; Sims boycotted the show.
On March 25, 2015, to further the mission of the compromised Gettysburg show, and in honor of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, Sims organized a 13-state funeral for the Confederate flag (#13flagfunerals), three weeks ahead of the shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Sims’s installation was presented in various forms in exhibitions in university galleries and museums across the country.
Finally, on October 26, 2017 in front of the E.W. Scripps Amphitheater at Ohio University, Sims’s concept came full circle. “Confederate Flag: A Public Hanging” took place as originally conceived by the artist, with community participation including music, speeches and readings. Against this backdrop, the flag was ritually hung from a 13-foot gallows in a symbolic act of judgment against the history of white supremacy, the Jim Crow era and our contemporary condition of racially motivated violence.
The performance was sponsored by the off-campus community groups Black Life Action Coalition, Appalachia Resist, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Radical Action for Mountains’ and People’s Survival, Athens Girls Rock Camp, United Campus Ministry, Appalachian Peace and Justice Network and Shagbark Seed and Mill.
Following the events at Scripps Amphitheater, the flag was brought to the Kennedy Museum of Art and installed as “The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag,” in the exhibition “Expression and Repression: Contemporary Art Censorship in America” featuring Kara Walker, Sue Coe and David Wojnarowicz. The show was on view through December 22, 2017.
John Sims: “Confederate Flag: A Public Hanging” at Ohio University and the Kennedy Museum of Art, NCAC, NOVEMBER 20, 2017
The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag, Wikipedia (last edited 8 February 2018, at 16:33)