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kottke.org posts about Michelle Millar Fisher

MoMA adds the LGBT rainbow flag to their collection

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2015

MoMA Rainbow Flag

MoMA has announced that they’ve acquired the Rainbow Flag for their permanent collection. The flag has been a symbol of the LGBT community around the world since its creation in 1978. As part of the acquisition, MoMA Curatorial Assistant Michelle Millar Fisher interviewed the man who designed the flag, artist Gilbert Baker.

And I thought, a flag is different than any other form of art. It’s not a painting, it’s not just cloth, it is not a just logo — it functions in so many different ways. I thought that we needed that kind of symbol, that we needed as a people something that everyone instantly understands. [The Rainbow Flag] doesn’t say the word “Gay,” and it doesn’t say “the United States” on the American flag but everyone knows visually what they mean. And that influence really came to me when I decided that we should have a flag, that a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will. And flags are about proclaiming power, so it’s very appropriate.

So the American flag was my introduction into that great big world of vexilography. But I didn’t really know that much about it. I was a big drag queen in 1970s San Francisco. I knew how to sew. I was in the right place at the right time to make the thing that we needed. It was necessary to have the Rainbow Flag because up until that we had the pink triangle from the Nazis — it was the symbol that they would use [to denote gay people]. It came from such a horrible place of murder and holocaust and Hitler. We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it’s a natural flag — it’s from the sky! And even though the rainbow has been used in other ways in vexilography, this use has now far eclipsed any other use that it had…

Update: Baker died at his home on March 30, 2017. He was 65 years old.

Mr. Baker replicated his flag dozens of times over the years. He crafted a mile-long banner to parade down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and he sent flags around the world in support of gay rights protests. He sewed the rainbow flag used in the movie “Milk,” along with a new flag for this year’s television miniseries “When We Rise.”

“I remember the most fabulous queen I’d ever seen in my life shows up in sequins with a sewing machine in his arms, and he insisted on creating that flag exactly the same way he’d created it then,” said Dustin Lance Black, who wrote “Milk” and wrote and directed “When We Rise,” which was based on Jones’ memoir of the same name.