WHAT IS A BANNER?
What are banners? Banners are very curious textile objects. They can hang on the side of buildings, be carried on a pole, be wrapped around one’s body, exist inside both private and public indoor spaces and hang off a pole waving in air, meaning be a flag. Banners are art objects that are meant to be active participants in social life. Today, with the ubiquity of the printing technologies, soft textile banners are less common but they continue to exist around us, quietly and in numerous forms. Sometimes I wonder if the most successful iteration of a medieval banner is simply a t-shirt.
My personal definition for banners is:
- Flat textile pieces that are meant to actively participate in both private and public life. These textile pieces may exist in a private home but they are designed to have the ease of movement from private to public.
- Banners’ function is beyond mere decoration. They are not meant to only beautify. They can empower the disfranchised as well as augment messages of oppression. They are tools of expression of hierarchies, religious beliefs, status, identity, political and military affiliations, skill and commercial enterprises.
- Banners are the backdrop to rituals.
In western cultures, the history of banners is often tied to the history of war and the development of heraldry during the Medieval Ages. Basically, when war-ing groups of people found each other on a battlefield, they needed identifying features to slaughter the opposing army rather than the one they were affiliated with. To this day official institutes of heraldry exist in European countries that oversee the use of heraldic designations and study the history of these historic symbols.
Historians of western art often have to turn to heraldic scholars to identify the provenance of a particular book, painting, tapestry because the coats of arms may be the only surviving symbols that can reveal the object’s past. Of course, coat of arms is just an emblem, basically, a set of symbolic images that follow strict rules in their visual assembly. Kings and queens of yesteryear in some countries used to control these images to allow symbolic representation to few in society. By the way, Great Britain still does. It is important to remember that emblems are just symbolic representations that have been used throughout the world and ages to communicate.
A Walk Round Banner Culture
Siena Italy, The Palio, 10:47
Asofo Flags: Stitched Through Time, Gus Casely-Hayford, 6:58
Gus Casely-Hayford on Fante Asofo Flags, Artist and Empire, 3:55
Unity Through Design: The Power of Flags, Michael Green, 15:27
Shoton Festival, 1:42
Silk, Satin and Suffrage, 10:18