MoMA has announced that it has acquired the iconic Rainbow Flag for its design collection, where it joins similarly universal symbols such as the @ symbol, the Creative Commons logo, and the recycling symbol. Artist Gilbert Baker created the Rainbow Flag in 1978 in San Francisco.
MoMA posted an epic interview with Baker on their website, part of which is below:
A flag starts with some fabric in the wind. I knew how to sew—as I said, it came from being the drag queen that couldn’t afford the clothes I liked so I had to make them all. That translated, because I was in San Francisco in the early ’70s, into being the guy that would make banners for protest marches. I was in the army and got out in 1972 and that became my role, if you will. My craft became my activism.
Harvey Milk was a friend of mine, an important gay leader in San Francisco in the ’70s, and he carried a really important message about how important it was to be visible, how important it was to come out, and that was the single most important thing we had to do. Our job as gay people was to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth as I say, to get out of the lie. A flag really fit that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility, or saying, “This is who I am!”
I decided the flag needed a birthplace so I didn’t make it at home—I made it at the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove [Street] in San Francisco. We took over the top-floor attic gallery and we had huge trashcans full of water and mixed natural dye with salt and used thousands of yards of cotton—I was just a mess [from the dye], but [it was] beautiful fabric, organically made. I wanted to make it at the center, with my friends—it needed to have a real connection to nature and community.
When the flag actually went up, it was a very important thing that we raised them—there were two of them—in the United Nations Plaza [in downtown San Francisco]. We picked the birthplace very carefully, and it happened on June 25, 1978. That was deliberate—even in those days, my vision and the vision of so many of us was that this was a global struggle and a global human rights issue. And now here we are all these years later—we’re not there yet by any stretch of the imagination but in my lifetime we have come far.
Read the rest of the interview here.