Monday, 12 March 2012

Hundertwasser's Alternative NZ Flag Manifesto

Flags are a potent national symbol for artists to reference, recycle and re-imagine. Consider Jasper Johns "3 Flags", Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner", or closer to home Otis Frizzell and Mike Weston's controversial re-imagining of the NZ Flag as redesigned by a blast from Tame Iti's shotgun. The official NZ ensign has featured in prints such as the relatively straightforward Timo Rannali Aotearoa/NZ Flag print with the words of our national anthem (God Defend New Zealand) in English and Maori superimposed and a more unusual juxtaposition of the flag with a John Dory fish by Auckland printmaker Brad Novak. There are ongoing campaigns to re-design the New Zealand flag to eliminate the Union Jack, most recently a competition was promoted by the late Lloyd Morrison but none has attracted as much long term support as the alternative NZ Koru flag designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Hundertwasser (1928 - 2000) was one of Austria's most famous 20th century artists also known for his building designs which eschewed straight lines in favour of more organic forms. Hundertwasser visited New Zealand from 1973 and eventually lived here until his death in 2000. His Koru flag is the only non-print that we stock here at New Zealand Fine Prints, because of its importance in our design history we decided we had to have it for sale and it has sold steadily for over ten years now in two sizes, medium and large.

Recently we re-discovered the original long manifesto by Hundertwasser "A Flag of our Own" bundled up with a box of flags. Here it is:

Proposal for a second flag for New Zealand, which represents an unmistakeable identity that combines New Zealand’s age old heritage of nature and the heritage of Maori history with the growing future of a new nation.

The flag symbolizes old and new, history and progress at the same time. This flag symbolizes peace, but not weakness, but the strength of creation moving forward in a courageous engagement.

At a moment in human history with increasing environmental concern New Zealand gives an example to the world because this flag represents peace with nature, human development in harmony with nature. It is the sign of understanding with this everlasting powerful ally. This flag is a symbol of a new age, a big step towards mankind’s responsible evolution.

The fern’s green spiral on white or silver ground starts at the black flagstaff lead taking up the whole width of the flag first decreasing gradually, dividing the flag into diagonal halves, then curling up in to a spiral at the other end of the flag.

The spiral unfurling in a rectangular flag is the image of union of nature and technology, of round and square.

It seems as if the flag contains another flag advancing, streaming, unrolling and opening up in a strange and mysterious wind, a flag which is transformed into another dimension.

It is an image of how matter concentrates and turns into life. Quantity is transformed into energy. It is a symbol of the never ending cycle, a symbol for ever renewing life.

The green is carefully composed of the special earthy deep, lush and fertile greens of the New Zealand bush and farmlands, not occurring anywhere else. This green is the wealth of New Zealand.

The Maori spiral and the sprouting fern symbol combined, the koru, already represent New Zealand in many fields like for instance the Air New Zealand sign.

This flag is unique and cannot be mistaken for any other flag, as is the case with the present flags of New Zealand and Australia, and the flags of many other nations. A recent example of how a symbol was accepted to represent a country with an identity quest similar to that of New Zealand is the maple leaf in the flag of Canada. In Australia too, efforts are undertaken to find a new flag. Let New Zealand be first.

May New Zealand be part of the nations with a beautiful and meaningful and unique flag.

It is an intelligent flag full of joy, it is indigenous, it contains a message, it has a purpose, it is different. It holds the mystery of this remote land. It is a flag to love because it is special, a flag to identify with.

Like a fern sprouting, like a wave of nature, like a flag unfolding.

It is a proud symbol of this nation, representing Maori history, representing the green land and the long white cloud, a true messenger of New Zealand to the world, independent, strong, invincible, full of life and energy, unmistakably New Zealand, a flag of future and age old identity.

This second flag for New Zealand is in no way designed to detract from the Union Jack, the Southern Cross, the British monarchy, the Commonwealth, the British heritage and New Zealand traditions. The fern flag will fly happily together with the official Blue Ensign. It signals that New Zealand has come of age and qualifies as an equal among the nations of this Earth. The koru ensign symbolizes the love of New Zealanders for their country.
Bay of Islands, the 18th of March 1983.

The proposal for a second flag for New Zealand is a beautiful insight into the designer's thinking and the powerful symbolism of the design. Especially interesting to read that Hundertwasser was not actually proposing to replace the official Blue Ensign with the Koru flag.

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