It is as unassuming as a dishrag. In fact, it is a dishrag.
But that little-known piece of white cloth has a pivotal role in history. It was used by Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army to announce the surrender of Confederate forces at Appomattox, Va., on April 9, 1865.
The unassuming cloth is at least as significant as the well-known Confederate battle flag, which plunged the South into the catastrophe of the Civil War and has continued to excite passions pro and con to this day.
Now, artist Sonya Clark, increasingly well known for her exploration of race and gender issues, has undertaken a project at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, 1214 Arch St., that will focus on the truce flag and the cultural nuances and contradictions embedded in its woven threads. “Monumental Cloth: The Flag We Should Know” opens on March 29 and continues through Aug. 4.
It is no ordinary exhibition. On Tuesday evening, weeks before the opening, Clark will lead a workshop (6 to 8 p.m.) at the museum talking about Lesson Plan, the first installation in the project, and the issues of subjugation and loss she sees as inherent in the truce flag.
“Why do we know the Confederate battle flag instead of the Confederate truce flag that marked surrender, brokered peace, and was a promise of reconciliation?" Clark said in a statement. “What would it mean to the psychology of this nation if the truce flag replaced the flag associated with hate and white supremacy?”
Susan Talbott, executive director of the Fabric Workshop, said this piece of fabric should be seen as a monument akin to Civil War statuary in public places throughout the city and nation.
“We’re talking about an object that’s a simple dishcloth, not a stone monument, and she’s elevating it to stone and granite,” Talbott said.
There will be numerous public programs throughout the run of the project, which will consist of a series of installations.
In addition to the Tuesday workshop, Clark on Wednesday will hold a public conversation with Monument Labs artistic director Paul Farber from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Slought Foundation, 4017 Walnut St. The conversation, called “In Pursuit of the Confederate Truce Flag,” will be recorded for the Monument Lab podcast series.