Breathing Flag (2017) by Nari Ward (born 1963 in Jamaica; lives and works in New York) references the flag of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and an African prayer symbol known as the Congolese Cosmogram, which represents birth, life, death, and rebirth.

“Several of these hole patterns are drilled into the floorboards of one of the oldest African American churches in the United States in Savannah, Georgia,” explains Ward. “It is believed that the drilled pattern functioned as breathing holes for runaway slaves who, hiding under the floor, awaited safe transport north. The union of that moment and of Garvey's black nationalist flag acknowledge the resilience of the human spirit to survive even as we continue to need to be reminded here in America that Black Lives Matter.”

Nari Ward Breathing Flag 2017 Pledges of Allegiance Creative Time

Breathing Flag is part of the public art project Pledges of Allegiance. Organized by Creative Time, a New York–based nonprofit organization committed to working with artists on contemporary dialogues, debates, and dreams, the project invites cultural institutions to participate in raising flags created by acclaimed contemporary artists to inspire community and conversation while supporting artists at the forefront of socially engaged art-making.

Beginning with Breathing Flag and continuing through July 2018, a new flag will be hung outside the Johnson each month. Each of the fourteen flags identifies an issue the artist is passionate about and will provide opportunities for dialogue about pressing contemporary topics. Following Nari Ward, the artists that will be represented are Alex Da Corte, Jeremy DellerLaToya Ruby Frazier, Ann Hamilton, Robert Longo, Josephine Meckseper, Vik Muniz, Jayson Musson, Ahmet ÖgütYoko Ono, Trevor Paglen, Pedro Reyes, and Rirkrit Tiravanija.