Outdoor art exhibition remembers the 100th anniversary of the Pan-African flag

Flags that celebrate 100 year anniversary of Marcus Garvey's Pan-African flag created by artist Heather Raquel Phillips hanging outside the Practice Gallery at 319 11th St. in Philadelphia

Heather Raquel Phillips' flags, celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Marcus Garvey's Pan-African flag, hang outside the Practice Gallery at 319 11th St. in Philadelphia. (Courtesy of Heather Raquel Phillips)

Thursday was the 100th anniversary of the Pan-African flag, designed by Marcus Garvey in 1920 in an attempt to unite all people of African descent.

To both mark the anniversary and create an art exhibition during a pandemic, Practice Gallery, a small Philadelphia art space, asked a local artist to make a series of flags, now displayed outside its building.

Practice Gallery is one of the collectively run galleries in 319 N. 11th St. in Chinatown. On the side of the building, artist Heather Raquel Phillips has hung a series of flags: three long, draping vertical flags with text that read “Cultivate Abundant Love,” “Activate Erotic Expression,” and “Luxuriate Intrinsic Pleasure.”

Those are interspersed with triangular banners, almost like shields, with imagery made up of symbols from Ghana (adinkra), the Caribbean (Taíno) and ancient Egypt.

Some of Heather Raquel Phillips’ flags, celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African flag, use Ghanian, ancient Egyptian and indigenous Taíno imagery. (Courtesy of Heather Raquel Phillips)

“There are so many divisions that have been made over time in order to remove power from communities of color, and in particular Black communities,” said Phillips. “This is a call to bring that together and care for one another, and a reminder to take care of ourselves. When we see and experience uprising surrounding race, it’s important we step back and make sure each of us is OK.”

The exhibition is called “Pa’lante,” Spanish slang for “onward,’ often used as a rallying cry for social movements in Puerto Rico and Latin American countries.

“‘Go for it,’ ‘Move forward,’ ‘More forward with power!’” said Phillips. “It can be used in the activist sense, or in the casual sense, like, ‘Go for it and luxuriate, cultivate, activate.’”

She was thinking about Marcus Garvey and the early 20th century effort to globally unite people of the African diaspora. A century after he created the iconic tricolor flag of red, black and green stripes, Phillips said, the flag still has the power to move people.

“A flag means so much. It causes such a stir — as we see, right? People can stand behind a flag when they want to,” she said. “Consider the Pan-African flag, and I’m thinking, yes, this is a way to unite. It still works.”

“Pa’lante” will be on view until October. The flags will be exposed to the elements. The wind creates spontaneous movements Phillips equates with freedom. The long, vertical ones in particular often get wrapped and twisted around their own support structures.

A member of the Practice Gallery collective will be monitoring them and regularly untangling them with a long pole. Phillips is leaning into that vulnerability in her artwork: unity, revolution, and pa’lante must be maintained daily to be vibrant.

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