Flying the Flag Darkly: Staff and Students Use Art To Ask Gun Violence Questions

May 9, 2023 By Sanda Iliescu, Sanda Iliescu,

Paintings are often thought as joyful creations that delight with compelling design, rich colors and textures. But they can also be insightful, poignant, and somber.

The melancholy painting “Dark Flag,” rendered in tones of black and dark gray, is a richly textured American flag and a meditation on the tragedy of gun violence in America. The painting was conceived as a project by University of Virginia School of Architecture professor Sanda Iliescu and students in her course, Painting & Public Art.

Painted by more than a hundred students, staff and faculty members at the Architecture School, as well as members of the wider UVA community, “Dark Flag” explores how art can also ask difficult questions and illuminate painful realities.

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A close up of the "Dark Flag", the American flag in black and shades of grey with expressions written throughout
Painted by more than a hundred contributors, “Dark Flag” is an exploration of art asking difficult questions and shining light on painful realities. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Many contributors to the work added writing, drawings and even stitchwork to the creation in response to the question of what the American flag means to them.

Early on, one of the contributors wrote on the artwork flag in bold letters the namesDevin, Lavel, D’Sean” – the first names of the three UVA students killed in gun violence in November. Many contributors to the artwork referenced the three students, making “Dark Flag” a memorial to slain students Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.

The painting will be on display in UVA’s Ruffin Gallery from May 20 to June 23 in the part of the graduation show that is dedicated to D’Sean Perry who was a studio art major. This section of the exhibition is titled “In Memoriam: Works by and for D’Sean Perry.”

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