Our friend and legendary poster artist Jermaine Rogers will have 60 signed and number copies of his new print “Uncle” for sale today on his web site at a random time between noon and 3 PM Mountain. In the meantime you can read Rogers’ rather detailed breakdown of the inspiration behind the print after the jump:
‘Excuse me, folks…but I’m going to talk here for just a bit about ‘Uncle’ and why I did it.
It’s interesting to study the personified symbols that families, groups, nations, etc. use to identify themselves. Typically, the symbolic icon inherits some quality (or desired quality) that its constituents feel typifies (or should typify) their nature. For instance, since ancient times various animals have been designated by clans, societies, and governments to represent their ferocity, majesty, or longevity. Religion too, has always provided an array of gods, goddesses, demons, and spirits to characterize a certain ‘class mindset’ or aesthetic.
One of the most powerful modern examples of such a symbolic subject is ‘Uncle Sam.’ He is a national personification of the United States of America, and sometimes more specifically of the American government. His first mention dates from the War of 1812 and the first illustration of him dates from 1852. He is typically depicted as a serious elderly white man with white hair and a beard.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the art poster became a major tool in this ‘linkage’ propaganda…burning the correlation of character to group into the minds of the average street passerby. It was during the early 20th century that the most recognized rendering of Uncle Sam occurred. James Montgomery Flagg’s 1917 poster depicted Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer with the almost accusatory words, ‘I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY’ printed below. Flagg used his own face as the primary model for Uncle Sam, and the imagery has endured.
And yet, things are changing. I don’t have to tell you how: everyone knows. For the first time, an African American leads the country of the United States. From a purely objective point of view, it’s a staggering shift of…well, everything. Beyond the obvious racial implications, there are a myriad of supplemental differences that have been thrust into daily American life, too many to go into here. I’m reminded of a quote by Aldous Huxley that said that a ‘governmental symbol should accurately reflect the development of that government, of its people, and their way of thinking and reacting.’ After the recent dynamic changes in the visible look of the U.S. government, the idea of reinterpreting Uncle Sam hit me. Why not? Uncle Sam as an elderly and distinguished African American man.
I remember when I was a kid, there was a guy that lived in our neighborhood. His big brother lived in a small garage behind their family home. One day while I was over there waiting on my friend, I saw that his brother has a portrait on the wall of ‘Black Jesus.’ I was 8 or 9 years old…and it struck me. I’d never seen that before. At first it was funny, then strange. As I got older and learned more about myself and African American struggles or civil equality, I came to understand ‘Black Jesus.’ I learned the power of a bigger thing, a symbol, an icon…or a god, who understood you, sympathized and empathized with your plight, thought like you, LOOKED like you. I remember having this explained to me shortly thereafter my first contact with ‘Black Jesus’ by an older relative. Afterwards, I began to notice this aesthetic everywhere. It was the 1970′s. I remember seeing a black Santa Claus at Northline mall. I even remember going to a Montgomery Wards in inner-city Houston and seeing a black Superman. Other kids laughed about things like that…even the black kids. But I understood it. I had been taken aside and told ‘why.’
And so here, years later, is ‘Uncle Sam.’ No funny little in-jokes, allusions to ‘Black Power’, or colorful ‘African’ garments, jewelry, or headdress. No gloved hand raised in a defiant fist. All of that isn’t necessary: this depiction SHOULD be enough. This is simply an observation on symbolism. Nothing more, nothing less. Could the popular culture of the USA comfortably accept this rendition into their casual and everyday social language?
A funny thing: as I said above, during the civil rights movement and the eventual fight for cultural representation that followed, I saw a black Santa Claus…even a black Superman. Black men and women needed to find balanced representation in every thing. Every historic and pop cultural Anglo-American symbol needed to have a positive racial reciprocal, and if they didn’t exist they were created. The thing is, in all of that time, I never remember seeing a black ‘Uncle Sam.’
I guess it just didn’t make sense, yet.’
‘Uncle’ will be released for sale at a random time between the hours of noon and 3pm Mountain Standard Time (that’s between 2pm and 5pm Eastern) this coming Tuesday, January 27, 2009. Remember, no requests for holds, reservations, or hook-ups will be honored. First come, first served. Limit of one print per buyer.
Tags: 19th and 20th centuries, american government, art poster, constituents, families groups, ferocity, james montgomery flagg, jermaine rogers, linkage, longevity, majesty, mindset, passerby, personification, poster artist, print, random time, u s army, uncle, uncle sam, war of 1812, white hair, white man