In the advent of Black Lives Matter and the United States 2020 presidential election, there could be no better time for June Clark’s solo exhibition, Unrequited Love, at Daniel Faria Gallery. The show explores Clark’s relationship with the American flag, in a display of various quotations of the flag made in different media and styles.
The gallery’s website states, “As a young Black girl in America, Clark was taught to love something that would not love her back in return, but knowledge of that imbalance doesn’t rid someone of their desire for a mutual relationship. It’s an imbalance that is not specific to America; unrequited love is one of the oldest tools of colonialism.”
The flag is an instantly recognizable, very conflicted symbol, evoking different reactions and associations for everyone. For Canadians, who will be the majority of this exhibition’s viewers, the flag is a familiar symbol, but it is likely not as personal to us as it is to the artist. For Clark, a black woman who spent her childhood in Harlem, the relationship with this symbol is fraught, to say the least.
Clark expresses, “As a child, my heart would become full whenever I saw the flag waving in the breeze. I was proud and it was my understanding that all who saw ‘our’ flag could and should only love it as citizens and, if not of our country, envy those who were protected by it. I was taught that all citizens, under this flag, would enjoy all rights and freedoms under the constitution.” The American flag has been a part of Clark’s artistic vocabulary for the last 20 years, and these works are a way for her to come to terms with the “unrequited love” she feels for it.
The show, though now moved online, takes place in a stark, monochrome room, with walls, floors, and a display table all sparsely occupied with different iterations of the American flag. The neutral tones and unadorned nature of the gallery space allow these works to stand out and become independent from one another.
Installation view of June Clark Unrequited Love at Daniel Faria Gallery, 2020
The flags are constructed in different materials, styles, and varying levels of completion: some are ripped and threadbare, some burnt, and some are stylistic recreations of the design. Looking through the works, the criminal implications of these defaced flags instantly came to mind, making the show all the more defiant and shocking. Repetition becomes an art form even if at a closer look none of the flags are the same.
A particularly striking piece is a flag that hangs diagonally from the wall, completely disassembled. It is made up of unwoven vertical threads that form the colors of the flag, with the blue square and stars ripped and full of holes. On top of the flagpole lies a cross made of rusty barbed wire. Its lifelessness and raggedness give it a melancholy, pitiful quality.
Moral Disengagement, 2014-17 and detail (right)
Clarke has dedicated this exhibition to Colin Rand Kaepernick, the football quarterback famed for kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 protesting the ongoing violence and discrimination towards Black people in the United States and worldwide. The exhibition was planned in the months leading up to the 2020 US presidential election. During this time, and up to more recent months, the United States has been in a period of turmoil, and many devastating events have occurred in the country, especially those related to racism. I know many of our associations with the symbol of the American flag have been marred by these events, making this show all the more relevant.
From Harlem, 1997
A representation of a flag lies on the gallery floor, in the form of strips of fabric: long thin white and red pieces and a square navy piece with tiny stars resting upon it. Another flag, this one more traditional and undamaged, likely an actual flag Clark has repurposed, is affixed to a blank cream-coloured canvas. The flag is bunched-up and sewn onto the canvas with bright green threads that read “irony” in cursive.
(irony), 2010 and detail (right)
June Clark’s solo exhibition Unrequited Love is a fascinating, radical collection of works. Its exploration of patriotism, race, and identity, is unique and mesmerising. Clark’s ability to rework a well-known symbol into intimate, autobiographical art is impressive. These works are incredibly poignant, defiant, and relevant to the world we live in – this exhibition couldn’t have come at a better time.
Images are courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery
*Exhibition information: June Clark: Unrequited Love, November 6, 2020 – March 27, 2021, Daniel Faria Gallery, 188 St Helens Ave, Toronto.