National Anthem

November 26, 2021-February 5, 2023

National Anthem - San Francisco 49ers

The Forman Gallery will host an original watercolor, two lightboxes, and a video by Japanese-German American artist Kota Ezawa (b. 1969). These works are from Ezawa’s critically acclaimed “National Anthem” series about the NFL athletes who, starting in 2016, engaged in peaceful protests against police brutality and the oppression of people of color in the US.

The centerpiece of the project, the critically acclaimed video installation National Anthem (2018), features a soundtrack of “The Star-Spangled Banner” while the artist’s distinctive watercolor animation shows players “taking a knee” on the field.

The two-minute video, in which the artist “stitched” his individual watercolors together to create a lyrical animation over which a string quartet plays the American National Anthem, was first exhibited at the 2019 Whitney Biennial and was highly praised by the public and art critics alike. Ezawa painted the individual watercolors based upon live camera footage of seminal moments in the controversial protests: teammates linking arms in solidarity; the eerie vacancy when players were banned from on-field protests; and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, “taking a knee” in protest for the first time in 2016.

The “National Anthem” series is an extension of Ezawa’s affinity for representing and responding to popular culture and newsworthy events through the lens of flattened, delicate watercolors and animations. Past artworks by Ezawa include depictions of the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, and the OJ Simpson verdict, a work that is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Kota Ezawa has exhibited his art in solo exhibitions at Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; St. Louis Art Museum, MO; Artpace, San Antonio, TX; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, among others.


Kota Ezawa’s National Anthem: Black Bodies in Protest | Sunday, April 10 | 2-3 pm
*This program will take place in person and will be streamed live on Zoom.

Since 2016, athletes have protested police brutality and the oppression of people of color by kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Kota Ezawa’s National Anthem, now on view at MAG, is a multimedia exhibition that reflects on those protests. Join us as Stephen Brauer presents the historical and cultural context for this social movement.

Stephen Brauer is Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department at St. John Fisher College. He is the author of the recently published Criminality and the Modern: Contingency and Agency in Twentieth-Century America and has published articles on Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Faulkner’s Sanctuary, and David Fincher’s film version of Fight Club. He has also published essays on Mad Men, concussions in sport, and the football player Terrell Owens.

shown: Kota Ezawa, National Anthem (San Francisco 49ers), 2019 [on loan]