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Blaffer Art Museum Goes Rogue with Stephanie Syjuco’s Digitally Printed Flags

By Jillian Holden

In collaboration with the Honors College and M.D. Anderson Library, Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston is excited to present “Rogue States,” a contemporary installation of 22 flags by Stephanie Syjuco. Portraying fictionalized enemy nations from Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, flag and country design is derived from American and European films and TV shows that conveyed these “rogue” countries as terrorist, resistant, or unstable. 

Born in the Philippines in 1974, Syjuco is an innovative artist known for creating large-scale spectacles of unique cultural objects. Located now in her hometown of Oakland, California, Syjuco’s projects expose overlooked and ignored issues such as citizenship, immigration, and nationality. “Rogue States” is part of a larger exhibition by Syjuco entitled “The Visible Invisible,” which will be held at the Blaffer Art Museum from October 7, 2020 to January 9, 2021.

Displayed above the spiral staircase at the entrance to the Honors College, the flags are hung vertically from the ceiling in rows as a United Nations-style convention of unity and a collective anxiety to reveal real and fictionalized foreign enemy nations through a Western lens. Steven Matijcio, Jane Dale Owen Director and Chief Curator of the Blaffer Art Museum, said that by conveying these “imaginary political avatars and hanging them in a manner reminiscent of the United Nations, Syjuco questions the real-world implications of perpetuating these shadow nations in the popular imagination.” 

“Their presentation adjacent to the Honors College in M.D. Anderson Library creates a provocative model to study, debate and question in the many Honors courses that explore the relationship between politics, culture and people,” said Matijcio. 

Fueled by her ongoing investigation into the power of flags and the symbol of national identity, “Rogue States” vividly conveys a rendering of certain populations invisible, while prompting an internal struggle of how that must change. Additional work by Syjuco is also available for viewing at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design and video screens across University of Houston campus this fall.

Take a virtual tour of the installation below.