Bathsheba Okwenje, Freedom of Movement (2019). 300 x 290 cm flag in woven polyester
Bathsheba Okwenje (b.1973, Uganda) currently lives in Gisovu, Rwanda. She is a multi-disciplinary, researcher-artist working at the intersection of information practices and aesthetics. Her work explores hidden histories, the interior lives of people and the interactions between them. She is a member of the artist collective Radha May. Bathsheba received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work has been shown in various exhibitions, academic institutions and streets in India, Italy, Norway, South Africa, Uganda, UK and the USA.
In Freedom of Movement Bathsheba Okwenje contrasts the visa requirements for a Ugandan national visiting Norway with that of a Norwegian national visiting Uganda. With this work, Bathsheba is using the opportunity to quite literally ‘flag’ the inequities inherent in the movement of people around the world by focusing on the injustices of the visa system as they are experienced mainly by those who hold passports from the Global South.
The work juxtaposes these restrictions in travel that are applied to specific nationalities with the freedom of movement (and by extension the appropriation) of cultural artifacts such as the African Wax Print textile, which itself has its own complicated, geopolitical history.
Freedom of Movement is part of a series of works initiated by Bathsheba to draw attention to systemic geopolitical biases. She focuses on the visa system as an example. You can see more on this series at: https://bit.ly/2XL5YM9
Entrée’s flag project started in 2012. This is an ongoing outdoor flag project curated by Randi Grov Berger. The project themes issues such as citizenship and asks questions about identity and nationality. Flags are strong symbols of power that are used in both warfare and celebration, with many rituals attached to them. The symbolic value of raising a flag, or burning flags is almost universal. The use of colors and symbols in flags has a long and complex history, which has been studied in the field of vexillology. The artists involved in this project address these issues when they explore the flag as a medium, in parallel with the themes of their individual practices. Flag Bergen was the first iteration of the project in 2012, in 2013 the project grew larger and moved to Nesflaten (Rogaland), and was part of Performa Biennial in New York the same year, moved to Kunsthall Stavanger in 2014, and is currently on view at Tromsø Kunstforening since 2015, where one flag is presented in their flagpole each month, leading up to the exhibition Flag Tromsø in 2020.