In September 2016, Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling during the US national anthem at the start of each NFL game. He did this to protest systemic racism in the US, and particularly police violence against black men. President Donald Trump attacked him on Twitter, saying that this was disrespectful to the flag; other commenters countered that his actions were in fact an embodiment of the American spirit. Suddenly Kaepernick had become famous beyond the world of football, and discussions of the controversy led to a national reexamination of American identity.
Kaepernick’s actions, and the protests that followed, intrigued Kota Ezawa, a Japanese-German artist who resides in the US. His series of watercolors National Anthem, which was recently shown at the Whitney Biennial, explores these events. “A lot of protest happens through language or slogans,” says Ezawa. “The genius of his gesture is that it was non-verbal—it was just taking a knee. It said so much without saying anything.”
2016 年 9 月，NFL 球员柯林·卡佩尼克（Colin Kaepernick）在比赛前奏国歌时下跪，以表示对美国机构性种族主义的抗议，特别是抗议警察对黑人男性的暴力行为。美国总统特朗普发推说这是对国家和国旗的不敬；但有些民众说，这才是美国精神的体现。柯林一下在橄榄球界内外闻名，而关于下跪事件的讨论，也推动了美国社会对美国身份的反思。
卡佩尼克的这一跪，以及接下来的抗议活动，激起了常住加州的日裔德国艺术家 Kota Ezawa 的兴趣。他为惠特尼双年展创作的《国歌》系列，就探究了下跪事件的意义。“言语或口号是很多抗议活动的表达渠道。” 他说，“而柯林无声的举动却胜过有声的表达：他仅仅下跪而已，什么都没说，但这种表达却很丰富。”
When Ezawa was approached to submit work for the Whitney Biennial, he originally planned to create a piece based on Robert Frank’s iconic photography series The Americans. Yet after reading about the football controversy, he thought, why not do a piece on Kaepernick’s kneeling? “It rarely feels like I am choosing a subject for my work. More often the subject finds me, or an idea comes to me unexpectedly,” he says. This series was no exception.
Before the controversy made headlines, Ezawa had only thought of the national anthem that’s played before sports events as a moment for silence, and he had never given much thought to its patriotic or political significance. Yet Kaepernick’s decision to kneel showed him how powerful a moment it could be. “I perceived it as some unusual act of patriotism. If you stage a protest on such a large platform in front of millions of people, it can only be because somehow you care about the country that you’re supposed to represent.”
Recreated in watercolor, the news images have a surprising warmth. “In general, I try to incite some kind of conflict between the surface of the work and what‘s behind it,” he says. Here he takes what could be a passing story and gives it a certain permanence, while also making the events seem less distant—perhaps like actions that anyone could take.
当惠特尼双年展邀请 Kota 提出作品的时候，他原先准备基于罗伯特·弗兰克的典型照片集《美国人》作画。但他看了这次足球争议之后，突然被想法击中：为什么不以柯林下跪为主题呢？Kota 说，“我很少感觉自己选择主题，往往是主题找到了我，或者是突然间出现在我脑中。”这个作品就是如此。
Ezawa, who has lived in the US for over 20 years, was raised in Germany, the son of a German mother and a Japanese father, and he’s always had an ambivalent relationship to national identity. “I never felt a connection to this attitude of patriotism,” he explains. “I never knew which flag I should wave, the Japanese one or the German one. Now I’m a naturalized US citizen, but I never thought of myself as having these strong patriotic feelings about the US.”
Slowly, he’s begun to feel more American, and perhaps Kaepernick’s protest—with its brave and thoughtful patriotism, so different from the flag-waving variety—is one of the reasons. “Until recently, I thought of myself mainly as a foreigner and immigrant, but this perspective is slowly softening,” he says. Being selected as a representative of US contemporary art in the Whitney Biennial is a milestone for him. “At least in the eyes of the art world, it seems like I qualify as American.”
Still, he maintains distance from easy national identification. “I’m not so sure that my perspective is tied to any national origin. I once heard it said that an artist sees the world through the eyes of a tourist,” he notes. “I think that is my preferred perspective.”
To keep up to date with upcoming exhibitions or works from Kota Ezawa, visit the Haines Gallery website.
在美国生活了二十余年的 Kota 成长于德国，母亲是德国人，父亲是日本人，他对国家认同一直存有矛盾。“我从未对爱国主义有什么联系，每次都不知道自己该挥舞哪国的国旗，到底是日本还是德国呢。”他说，“虽然如今是美国籍，但从不觉得自己对美国有这种强烈的爱国情绪。”
Kota 现在慢慢开始感觉自己更像美国人，也许是柯林的抗议让他认同的原因之一——那种周密、勇敢、跟民族主义完全不同的爱国态度。“我之前觉得自己是外国人，是移民，但最近这个视角慢慢开始改变。” 他说。被选入美国当代艺术的代表惠特尼双年展，对他来说也是一个里程碑，“至少在艺术世界里，好像我已经被当成了美国人了。”
想持续关注 Kota Ezawa 的展览和作品信息，可点击浏览 Haines Gallery 官网。
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Contributor: Jiang Yaling
English Translation: Allen Young
Images Courtesy of Kota Ezawa and Haines Gallery
供稿人: Jiang Yaling
中译英: Allen Young
图片由 Kota Ezawa 与 Haines Gallery 提供