Issues of water quality along with other questions of sustainability are near and dear to the hearts of faculty, researchers and students on Cornell’s upper campus. In the words of Professor of Soil and Crop Science, Johannes Lehmann, sustainability science is what we do. With that perspective in mind, from April 25 to May 16, Mann Library will be flying a flag above its front entrance that demands justice for the residents of Flint, Michigan who remain without clean water. The installation is part of a larger public art project called Pledges of Allegiance that has been on display at Cornell’s Johnson Museum since August 2017. Created by visual artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, FLINT, 1,105 days and counting man-made water crisis, marks the number of days since the lead leaching began. The photograph of pipes locked behind barbed wire is from Frazier’s 2016 work Flint is Family, where the artist spent five months with three generations of working-class women in Flint as they face life without potable water.
Using the camera as an agent of social change, Frazier’s artistic practice explores how racism informs the environmental and economic decline of postindustrial American towns. Her work intertwines personal stories about working-class black life in these towns, whether her own relatives Braddock, PA (The Notion of Family, 2016) or families in Flint, MI, with larger questions about civic rights and responsibilities. These may be understood in relation to larger policy issues such as people’s right to clean drinking water and the responsibility of the government to provide it, but, as she reveals, such questions simultaneously influence relationships on community, familial, and personal levels as well.
The flag will be raised above Mann Library’s front entrance at 9am on April 25. It is being displayed in tandem with an identical flag at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of art, linking the ag quad with the arts quad to address sustainable access to safe drinking water, one of the main environmental issues of our time. Water quality and security are core areas of study in life sciences research; Frazier’s flag about Flint represents approaches that the humanities and creative arts take to understand and visualize sustainability and environmental justice issues.
FLINT, 1,105 days and counting man-made water crisis is part the public art project Pledges of Allegiance. Organized by Creative Time, a New York-based nonprofit arts organization committed to supporting artists involved in socially engaged art, the project invites cultural institutions to simultaneously hoist flags by artists created to inspire community and conversation. The series contains sixteen flags in total, each made by a different contemporary artist and highlighting an issue that the artist is passionate about, providing opportunities for dialogue about pressing contemporary topics. The Johnson Museum has displayed flags by artists such as Nari Ward, Yoko Ono, Ann Hamilton, Pedro Reyes, and Rirkrit Tiravanija over the last nine months. The artists whose flags are still to be raised include Josephine Meckseper, Vik Muniz, and Ahmet Ögüt.
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Visit Creative Time Projects for more information about Pledges of Allegiance.
Visit Latoya Ruby Frazier.
For more on the water crisis in Flint, see these articles: