October 2004 | UnionDocs Brooklyn

In its first event, UnionDocs opened with the US gallery premiere of Flag: An American Story an exhibition by New York-based artist Lauri Lyons.

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“Flag: An American Story is a grand journey,” writes Paul Fusco of Magnum Photos, “that opens our eyes and hearts to the inestimable value of each human being and the truths that hold our society together; the foundations and promises of America that live in our constitution and Bill of Rights. Flag is a remarkable achievement.”

Lyons, born in the Bronx, grew up surrounded by the flag, moving from army base to army base. Her parents immigrated from Jamaica and were both active in the Air Force. Inspired as an adult to more deeply understand the vastness of the United States, Lyons embarked on a year-long documentary journey across the country. From Montana to Philadelphia, from San Francisco to Louisiana, Lyons asked a spectrum of average citizens the question “What is America?” and photographed them with the American flag. Some held it reverently, some casually, some refused to hold it at all. The resulting photographs are “raw images that portray the fundamental link of individuals across a multi-cultural nation,” writes Picture Magazine.

Initially ignored by American publishers, Flag was first published in London in 2001 by Vision One Books. The Observer saw it as “forming an image of America far removed from the stereotypical dream.” Directly after September 11th when Flag was released, an American audience was not prepared to approach work that might appear critical of the country. The premiere at UnionDocs was particularly relevant, coming as it did in the lead up to the 2004 presidential elections. An interview with Lyons was collaged with other UnionDocs audio recordings in a radio broadcast on WKCR FM NY.