Flags is a rare print, only found in print, never having appeared on the street, released as a collection in two different colours. The first collection was edited in 2006 with a silver background. This silver edition of 1000 unsigned prints was released as part of Banksy’s London Santa’s Ghetto exhibit in December 2006. Then, only 20 signed prints were available on formica, from Lazarides. The gold edition was released in 2007 at Santa’s Ghetto in Bethlehem. The collection of 112 prints were all signed by the artist.
Flags shows a group of children and young adults standing victoriously atop a burnout car raising the American flag. The children’s dress, their environment presents them as disenfranchised urban youths. The scene, with only one touch of colour – represented by a large gold or silver (according to the edition) sun or moon, suggests a sense of melancholy.
The work first appeared in 2006 at Santa’s Ghetto, Banksy’s own temporary art gallery and amusement arcade on London’s Oxford Street. The artist told The Guardian that he felt, “the spirit of Christmas was being lost” so, in a 23-day show Banksy offered the public access to some of world’s finest underground artists, the intention being to sell affordable works of art for Christmas.
Banksy’s work is a reference to the Iwo Jima battle scene, and more specifically to the iconic photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by American photographer Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945. The photo depicts six US Marines lifting the Stars and Stripes atop Mont Suribachi, during the battle of Iwo Jima, in World War II.
After Rosenthal's photo won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, it quickly became one of the most recognisable images of the war, symbolic of American victory and patriotism. In Banksy's version, the patriotic Marines have been replaced by rebel children. Open to several interpretations - as is typical in Banksy's work - some say that the children are symbolic of America's youth, still aspiring to the American Dream. Others say the image symbolises the reclamation of a dystopian urban habitat, where children are fighting alone, in a world ruined by adults. In almost all interpretations it seems to represent the strength of humanity over a ruling system.