The ASL Flag
23″w x 28″h each (two pieces) • 1999 • acrylics/mixed media
Framed (painted balsa wood) • original painting on canvas, by Betty G. Miller, signed “Bettigee.” 1991.
This is a diptych, with two separate canvases creating one image.
Betty has done a series of paintings featuring the American flag through the years. The first one was the “Ameslan Flag” (1974) that is owned by the National Association of the Deaf. The basic, recurring theme of the flag paintings is that even though we live in America, the land of the free, we still suffer from oppression born of fear and lack of understanding.
This particular painting came after a discussion that Betty and I had about artwork by an old friend of mine. He deliberately did “pretty pictures,” or so they seemed. When you looked more closely, you could see other, more real, emotions under the surface. In his paintings for example, he would do a portrait of someone and from across the room you are drawn to look more closely at the painting because it’s attractive. Once there, you’d see that the sitter was in a bad mood, or thinking angry thoughts.
In this paining, Betty used light, pastel colors for the American flag with hands and eyes, the two features most important to deaf people, replacing the stars on the flag. She then rewrote the words to our national anthem, the “Star-Spangled Banner,” to show both the beauty of ASL, and the oppression deaf people still face:
“Oh can’t you seeee…. by dawn’s early light
what proudly…. we Deaf wave at visual beauty
we see in sign language burst in air…
no matter people hearing stare…show proof that…
Deaf and ASL still here… oh why Deaf people opressed?
over the land of the free…. and the home of the brave…??”
At home, we normally hung the two canvases on slightly different levels to enhance the feeling of a waving flag. This painting was on loan for several years to the National Association of the Deaf Law Center, and was exhibited in Betty’s Sept-Nov 2008 NTID Dyer Show. As a side note, it may not be clear in the low resolution photo online, but the hands in the flag are actually stickers of mime hands, and the eyes are also stickers, but the kind that are a clear blister with a “pupil” inside that rolls around.
This painting is available on T-shirts and other products in our Cafepress store.