One would imagine that flags - national flags had simply always been there, but there is a period of two hundred and fifty years when the idea of the national flag really comes into its own, when the conventions derived from old military standards find new life. It is a period that coincides with the era of most intense colonial expansion, when European flags became potent symbols of imperialism, of military domination and cultural assimilation. But simultaneously, it is a time when flags were being used as symbols of dissent, of defiance, of resistance by the colonized. In the hands of the West African Fante - flags became part of a powerful political iconography through which anger and frustration could be channeled into critique and satire. These beautiful traditions fit within a moment when artists across the world struck back against oppressive forces, a moment exemplified by Hannah Ryggen.
The story of the Asafo flag: a story of West African resistance through beauty, is as surprising as it is inspiring.
Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford OBE is the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, the nation’s premiere museum devoted to the arts of Africa. He joined the museum in February 2018 and brings with him a wealth of experience curating, writing, and presenting Africa’s arts and cultures.
Casely-Hayford, a cultural historian, is most well-known for his television series, including the critically acclaimed Lost Kingdoms of Africa (BBC) and the Emmy-nominated Tate Britain’s Great British Walks (Sky TV). He has also written extensively on historical Africa, most recently authoring Timbuktu, a Ladybird book published in 2018 by Penguin Random House.
Casely-Hayford also lectures frequently on Africa’s global importance and its under-recognized contributions to world history, trade, and visual and popular cultures. He delivered the opening talk at TED Global in Tanzania in 2017, and in 2018, was invited by the Kenyan government to speak to the importance of museums in serving as economic catalysts and fostering contemporary art and artists for local, national, and international communities.
Casely-Hayford has served on the boards of many arts organizations, including the United Kingdom’s National Trust, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Caine Prize for African Writing. As director of Africa 05, he organized the largest African arts season in Britain, developing partnerships with hundreds of organizations across the nation to showcase Africa’s arts and cultures in local communities, galleries, theaters, and national museums.
Born in London, Casely-Hayford earned his PhD in African history at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and is the recipient of many honors. In 2018, he was named an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his significant contributions to African art and culture.
The event is supported by Norwegian Textile Artists, and included in their event series Soft Moments.