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Her Flag 2020 commemorates the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage with a national collaborative art project.

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Marilyn Artus will sew the first 19 stripes onto the flag’s star field 2:30-4 p.m. Jan. 18 at Oklahoma History Center. - PROVIDED
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  • Marilyn Artus will sew the first 19 stripes onto the flag’s star field 2:30-4 p.m. Jan. 18 at Oklahoma History Center.

Her Flag 2020: Sewing of the Star Field

2:30-4 p.m. Jan. 18

Oklahoma History Center
800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive
herflag.com
Free-$7

On July 20, 1848, Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, unanimously adopted the Declaration of Sentiments.

“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her,” the document, based on the Declaration of Independence, read in part. “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.”

Thirty years later, a constitutional amendment to guarantee women’s right to vote was introduced to Congress — and reintroduced to every subsequent Congress for the next 41 years until it passed both chambers with the required two-thirds majority in 1919. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became, by a single vote, the 36th and final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment, which proclaims, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and commemorate the decadeslong fight leading up to its ratification, Oklahoma-based artist Marilyn Artus created Her Flag, a collaborative project with 36 women artists — one from each state that voted to ratify the amendment.

“I am a suffrage-era nerd after picking up a book years ago and digging into the history,” Artus said. “There was all this stuff I’d never heard of in school that was amazing and fascinating, and I just really fell in love with it. When I realized the big anniversary was coming up, I wanted to do something really big to celebrate it.”

The result will be an 18-foot-by-26-foot flag featuring 36 stripes created by the selected artists and hand-sewn to the flag by Artus in a public performance. Before traveling to the remaining states over the next eight months, Artus will stop in Oklahoma City to sew the first 19 stripes onto the star field 2:30-4 p.m. Jan. 18 at Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.

“In my work, I often like to take items or things that people already have a lot of feelings and emotions about,” Artus, who previously worked as a commercial artist, said. “I’ve used the universal woman that symbolizes women in assorted areas including public bathrooms, and also I’ve used the mud-flap silhouette and now the American flag. People have their own baggage or feelings with those specific images, and so it just makes for a deeper feeling for the artwork. And then also, we’ve been in a really challenging place politically in the United States for quite a few years now, and I really wanted to contribute in a positive way to the discussion. And raising awareness about an anniversary that Democrats, independents and Republicans, men, women, black, white, all had a part in making happen felt like a good place to send my energies.”

Artus had the idea for Her Flag in 2017 and spent two years planning and selecting artists from the more than 340 women who applied.

“Oh my gosh! I felt like I wrote the description forever because it’s such a big project with a lot of details,” Artus said. “I felt like I wrote and wrote and wrote and fine-tuned it, and then finding the artists, the 36 artists from all across the nation, was a big job. Anytime you do a nationwide, yearslong project, there’s a lot to be done.”

Her Flag 2020 will feature stripes created by women artists from each of the 36 states that ratified the 19th Amendment. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Photo provided
  • Her Flag 2020 will feature stripes created by women artists from each of the 36 states that ratified the 19th Amendment.

Ordinary women

Sunu Kodumthara, associate professor of history at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU), who will speak at the event, said she wants to focus on the individual contributions of suffrage activists in their yearslong nationwide project to get the 19th Amendment passed.

“What I’m planning on is really highlighting not just the history of the suffrage movement,” Kodumthara said, “but really talking about individual women over the course of the many years of the movement who were really rather ordinary women who were put in these circumstances where they chose to be extraordinary, and I think the purpose of me doing that is really to highlight the power of the individual and the power of the people and how regular, ordinary people can really come together and bring about justice and change for the good.”

Artus said she also wants Her Flag to highlight the contributions of women who are not as often discussed in history books.

“The history is often from a white male angle and women of color or minority women that were a part of the struggle and that were fighting for the rights to vote are not included in the history,” Artus said. “Susan B. Anthony is there, but Ida B. Wells — who was an amazing suffrage fighter, a ferocious suffrage fighter, among other incredible things that she did — people don’t know that name. This anniversary is an opportunity to raise those women in history that people don’t know about.”

Born into slavery in 1862, Wells worked after the Civil War as an investigative journalist, internationally exposing the injustice of lynchings and becoming a controversial figure even in the suffrage movement for her outspoken antiracist viewpoint. While Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton initially worked to abolish slavery before helping popularize the suffrage movement, the movement split over whether to support the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, which guaranteed the right to vote for African American men only.

“We have to acknowledge that it wasn’t a cohesive movement,” Kodumthara said. “There are divisions. There are disagreements. There is classism; there is racism, even within the suffrage movement. So it’s not one sort of unified sisterhood. It’s still something in progress. … We’ve never really had one cohesive movement, and I think that really needs to be something that we strive toward, where we have a true understanding of everybody’s circumstances.”

However, Kodumthara said, suffrage should be commemorated as “phase one” in a hard-fought ongoing battle.

“I think it’s important that we celebrate the centennial,” Kodumthara said. “It’s important that we acknowledge the sacrifice and the years of hard work, women going to prison, women [on hunger strikes] being force-fed, and all of those things are important. It’s absolutely vital we remember that, but we also have to ask ourselves, ‘OK, what’s next? What else can we do? What else is there to accomplish? What are the obstacles in front of us that we need to overcome?’ And by ‘we,’ I think it’s important to remember that all women look out for the women to the side of us, to see who else is next to us and to make sure that we are pulling them up with us.”

Artus said it would be “absurd not to celebrate such an unbelievable American accomplishment.”

“It was when women got our foot in the door, and we were never going to get that door slammed on us again,” Artus said. “Not all problems were solved, but like everything in history, there’s a starting point. Things don’t magically change. … This is an opportunity to talk more in depth about women’s history, so to just ignore this anniversary, seems like a really big missed opportunity. … When a little girl or little boy opens up their first history book, oftentimes, women’s history is not is not there as much, and that instantly creates a problem for a little girl about her self-esteem when she doesn’t see herself. Our stories are different; they’re unique because our role in society was different, but they’re every bit as important.”

Singer-songwriter Carter Sampson and poet Angie LaPaglia are scheduled to perform. Artus will return to Oklahoma, the 33rd state to ratify the 19th Amendment, in May to sew on the stripe created by OKC artist Denise Duong. Visit herflag.com

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