Flag of Convenience David Dunnico
Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery 25 May-28 June 2019
THE Union Jack has never been just a flag. In this new exhibition Manchester documentary photographer David Dunnico takes us on a trip around the world and through time to explain why it is has meant different things to different people. Using film, photographs, postcards and ephemera he unpicks this complex and powerful symbol. Patriotism, nationalism and corporatism are sewn into the image of the Union Jack, giving people an important focus for their view of themselves and their national identity.
David became interested in flags when artists such as Andy Warhol used the Stars and Stripes in their work. In the exhibition he has a copy of the Adbusters take on the flag in which they replaced the stars and stripes with logos of American corporations.
For lefties the Union Jack has represented everything wrong with British society particularly in the 1970s when the Far Right embraced it. The Sex Pistols stole the image back and rewrote the imagery on their single” God Save the Queen” while the 1990s saw it being rehabilitated by Tony Blair as part of the Cool Britannia and Brit Pop era. Looking back it sums up the right wing Labour government trying to portray itself as a forward thinking, youthful authority, when the reverse was nearer the truth.
The 1990s saw the George Flag succeed the Union Jack on the back of the growth of football fever.The Cross of St. George is still a toxic image for leftwingers, although it has now become the symbol at mant football matches. Dunnico’s images of poor terrace houses festooned in England flags sit uncomfortably with the poverty of people’s lives.
Recently he spent his honeymoon following Farrage’s Brexit Party around Doncaster documenting how the Union Jack is once again the favourite image for those people who are looking for a sense of hope and pride in their country – however anarchonistic this may seem to the rest of us.
More depressing are his images from North of Ireland, although one was tinged with irony, showing the front door of a Loyalist office with the usual Union jack and a disability scooter parked outside. Brexit has shown to the rest of the UK that it is in the North of Ireland that the Protestant Community see themselves as the real owners of the Union Jack with all its connotations of empire –and loss.
Dunnico’s exhibition is timely. It provides a space amongst the Brexit ballyhoo to reflect on ideas of community, symbols and history. It is funny, informative and challenges you about one of the most iconic images of this country – the Union Jack.