In principle I do not believe in the inordinate zeal that is generally bestowed on national symbols. As a pacifist I do not recognise any military uniform and the various ranks and status that these represent. I also do not believe in the enforcement of political boundaries to demarcate the countries of the world. When I see people swear allegiance or weep in front of any flag, it upsets me. I have seen so many flags dishonoured and betrayed that I made a number of artworks to show my displeasure by making protest flags: FLAG I; FLAG II; VEXILLATOR.
One rarely sees the old orange, white and blue South African flag. It is generally believed to represent an unhappy period in the history of the country and it is met with strong disapproval when it is displayed at sport meetings, general cultural gatherings and public events. It is not for sale anywhere, except as a collectable relic at antique shops. Many members of so-called ‘far-right wing’ political groups in South Africa do not recognise the new flag and secretly display the old flag. I remember that when I bought my own threadbare orange white and blue flag in Bloemfontein I had concerns about possessing such a controversial item. To address my own fears, the pacifist in me searched for Hitler paraphernalia on the internet. In the same way as the old South African flag was once treated with utmost respect, ‘Hitler’ became a name to be revered and feared in his lifetime. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_streets_named_after_Adolf_Hitler A number of streets were once named after Hitler and original Adolf Hitler-Straße nameplates are available to collectors at a price.
The old South African flag was initiated by the first post-Union Afrikaner government when it took office in 1925. The bill passed by Parliament to introduce a national flag for the Union provoked violent controversy that lasted for three years, as the British believed Afrikaners wanted to remove the imperial symbols. The Natal Province threatened to withdraw from the Union. In the end the design was based on the Dutch flag flown at the time of Jan Van Riebeeck, consisting of orange, white, and blue horizontal stripes. The three flags in the centre represented the British colonies of Cape of Good Hope and Natal by means of the ‘Union Jack’ flag on the left, followed by the flags of the former Afrikaner republics of Orange Free State in the centre, and the ‘Vierkleur’ of the South African Republic of the Transvaal on the right.
The present South African flag was designed by state herald Frederick Brownell and was first flown on 27 April, 1994. The design of a new South African national flag was set in motion when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.
To play with the world-wide folly for flags, and in particular, our South African preoccupation with them, I decided to make a work in which the country’s two most recent flags are historically layered. I fixed my old flag on a sheet of softboard and painstakingly pinned 22,200 coloured plastic mapping pins simulating the new South African flag over it. I had to leave my studio for an extended period and because my team and I often worked well-into the night, I wrote to the collector Michael Roets that we were lucubrating to try and finish the work in time. The Oxford English Dictionary says that to lucubrate is to work well into the night, especially if the work is of a scholarly, meditative nature – from the Latin lucubrare ‘to work by the light’. Michael liked the word so much that he suggested we call the work LUCUBRATE.