600,000 White Flags on the National Mall Ehrenleben Lost To COVID: Coronavirus Updates: NPR
Patrick Semansky / AP
Starting this month, over 600,000 white flags will fill the National Mall for more than two weeks, symbolizing the lives lost to COVID-19 in the United States.
Each of the flags displayed on the 20 acre grass will contain a written personalized message from loved ones honoring their memory.
The art installation entitled In America: remember, was created by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, the Washington, DC, Social Practice Artist who first created a white flag installation outside the District of Columbia RFK stadium in October 2020.
“I wanted to focus on my message. I did not consciously start a large-scale installation. My outrage led me,” said Firstenberg in an interview with NPR.
The 62-year-old artist started visualizing the idea for the installations in March 2020 during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called that Americans should be willing to take the risk of the coronavirus to protect the US economy.
This message left Firstenberg with a range of emotions.
“That really worried me. I just felt like someone had to do something to say that with all these people dying, we have to value each of these lives,” she said.
She uses art to focus on social issues in the world
After years of volunteering in the hospice, on Capitol Hill and in the development of new pharmaceutical products, Firstenberg says she didn’t originally start out as an artist.
However, after taking a number of art classes, she discovered that art is a way to focus on your message when it comes to addressing social issues.
“When I realized that there was an art in me, I took every course I could,” said Firstenberg. “I learned every material I could because I wanted to use a whole range of materials to see what I had to say.”
Bruce Guthrie / Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg
In the summer of 2020 Firstenberg began to put her ideas to the test.
Create exhibition In America: How did that happen … On 4 hectares next to the RFK Stadium, Firstenberg and a team of volunteers planted 267,080 white flags – as a mirror of the 270,000 gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery.
When the exhibition ended on November 30th, Firstenberg was already thinking of her next project, knowing that the death toll from the virus would steadily increase.
“When the installation was closed last fall, I was very sad to know that we were heading for a very dark winter and that there would be many deaths,” said Firstenberg.
Moved by the emotional reaction after her first exhibit, she reached out to the National Park Service to bring her project to the National Mall.
“So many of these deaths happened in isolation without recognition,” She said. “When I got the chance to get it to the National Mall, even though it’s an immensely bigger task, there was no hesitation. I knew I had to do it.”
As the number of deaths increased, so did the number of flags
In the period between Firstenberg’s first exhibition and the second, almost 400,000 more people died of COVID-19 in the United States.
More than 660,000 people died of COVID-19 in the United States and there have been more than 41 million confirmed cases.
In preparation for this year’s installation, Firstenberg said she bought 630,000 white flags in June to match the total number of lives lost by the virus.
But after comparing the numbers with the latest data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, she found that she needed to order at least 60,000 more flags.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
“I ran the numbers and checked them several times, and I was really sure that I wouldn’t have used more than 630,000 flags in the first week of October,” said Firstenberg.
Unlike the installation in the RFK stadium, people have the option to leave messages and Dedicate flags digitally when they can’t see In America: remember personal, another way to connect those who have lost a loved one to the project.
The flags will be on display from September 17th to October 3rd.