If you caught a glimpse of the BET Awards last night, you might have recognized the gigantic American flag which waved furiously behind Kendrick Lamar during his performance of “Alright.” Prior to last night, that same flag, which measures an astounding 16 by 54 feet in size and is oddly decorated with 51 stars, was the centerpiece of William Pope.L’s show “Trinket” which the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles organized at The Geffen Contemporary this spring.
According to Bridget Finn, co-director of the contemporary program at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Kendrick reached out to Pope.L after visiting “Trinket” at MoCA, to discuss the possibility of re-creating the piece for his BET performance. The flag, aside from providing a uniquely satisfying visual backdrop for Lamar’s performance also established an important thematic dialogue between Pope.L’s art and Lamar’s lyrics, which raise questions of race, class, depression, and religion.
The defining element of Pope.L’s flag is the use of giant fans called “Ritters,” (often used to produce massive winds on movie sets) which causes the flag to fray, and also causes the entire building to be consumed by gusts of wind. According to the museum, this result is both sculptural and symbolic. In an interview with the museum, Pope.L explained:
“This project is a chance for people to feel the flag. People need to feel their democracy, not just hear words about it. For me, democracy is active, not passive. With ‘Trinket,’ I am showing something that’s always been true. The American flag is not a toy. It’s not tame. It’s bright, loud, bristling and alive.”
MOCA cites the “racialized deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner and the subsequent struggles over recognition of and justice for black bodies” in reference to Trinket. Lamar’s appearance at the BET awards played up this connection: He performed crouched atop one of two police cars parked onstage at the Microsoft Theater in L.A., with Pope.L’s flag waving behind him.
Update, July 1: New details about how the collaboration came about were added.