Batik Artist Repurposes Southern Symbols

by | Sep 16, 2005

The first artist one encounters in the Lowcountry is Jonathan Green. But let’s also look at the fine work of Leo Twiggs.

“Veterans with Flag,” 1970-71 (batik and paint on cotton mounted on board)

The Chronicle of Higher Education: In the middle of one of the interminable brouhahas over the Confederate Battle Flag here in the South, I heard of an African-American artist who was using the symbol in innovative ways: He was painting it in batik to infuse it with new meaning. These images were no paeans to a lost cause, no emblems of a mythic past. They were, however, in the hackneyed phraseology of contemporary criticism, “comments” on society through “appropriation.” In this case, theoretical cliché comes close to truth. Leo Twiggs, with gentle but unswerving irony, takes the flag and claims it as part of his Southern heritage. Tattered, disappearing almost on its support, the standard about which there is so much controversy becomes in Twiggs’s hands an ambiguous metaphor of unresolved conflict, yes, but also of a shared history. In addition to the Civil War, it calls to mind equally for Twiggs the suffering of slaves, the turmoil of Reconstruction, the indignity of Jim Crow, and even the promise of the Civil Rights era, and, of course, the aftermath, when this piece of cloth, venerated by some, reviled by others, continues to inspire argument and dissension. Twiggs transforms the image through shaping a new iconography for it, one in which he finds the possibility, albeit remote, of accord.