The Rainbow Flag added to MoMA’s design collection, history of the symbol explained by creator
Just in time for Pride Month, the Rainbow Flag will join the @ symbol, the recycling symbol, and the Creative Commons logo in the Museum of Modern Art’s design collection.
The flag has been a symbol for the LGBTQ movement since 1978 when Artist Gilbert Baker stitched it together in between drag projects in San Francisco.
Baker (pictured above, stitching a rainbow flag in 1994 via MoMA) sat down with Michelle Millar Fisher, MoMA’s Curatorial Assistant in the Architecture + Design department, to record an interview about the iconic flag for the MoMA Archives:
MMF: Tell us about the process and circumstances of developing the concept for the flag in 1978.
Baker: I write a lot about this story—it was about being in the right place at the right time. A flag starts with some fabric in the wind. I knew how to sew—as I said, it came from being the drag queen that couldn’t afford the clothes I liked so I had to make them all. That translated, because I was in San Francisco in the early ’70s, into being the guy that would make banners for protest marches. I was in the army and got out in 1972 and that became my role, if you will. My craft became my activism.
Harvey Milk was a friend of mine, an important gay leader in San Francisco in the ’70s, and he carried a really important message about how important it was to be visible, how important it was to come out, and that was the single most important thing we had to do. Our job as gay people was to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth as I say, to get out of the lie. A flag really fit that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility, or saying, “This is who I am!”
I decided the flag needed a birthplace so I didn’t make it at home—I made it at the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove [Street] in San Francisco. We took over the top-floor attic gallery and we had huge trashcans full of water and mixed natural dye with salt and used thousands of yards of cotton—I was just a mess [from the dye], but [it was] beautiful fabric, organically made. I wanted to make it at the center, with my friends—it needed to have a real connection to nature and community.
When the flag actually went up, it was a very important thing that we raised them—there were two of them—in the United Nations Plaza [in downtown San Francisco]. We picked the birthplace very carefully, and it happened on June 25, 1978. That was deliberate—even in those days, my vision and the vision of so many of us was that this was a global struggle and a global human rights issue. And now here we are all these years later—we’re not there yet by any stretch of the imagination but in my lifetime we have come far.
“All we asked for then and all we have ASKED for now is something to symbolize a new element of our weekend.”August 18, 2015
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