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Elsa James The Black Esex Flag

'The Black Essex Flag' (2019). Image Tessa Hallmann and Southend Museums



Appliqué flag: black cotton satin, rayon, metallic lurex and Itatian patent leather, 1210 x 1820 mms


The Black Essex Flag is the first work by a Black woman artist to be acquired by the Beecroft Art Gallery, marking an important step towards diversifying its permanent collection -- Artfund

"The Black Essex Flag was conceived with two objectives. For the Black communities of Essex—to serve as a radical declaration and feel part of the Essex narrative—and for the broader communities of Britain—to symbolically occupy a new mindset that shifts stereotypical perceptions about the communities who live there. 


The design is a copy of the Flag of Essex, which dates back to the 17th century and typically features three white Saxon swords with gold handles on a red field. The earliest references to the flag representing the county date back to the 17th century. ​It was developed during a four-month residency I titled 'Black Girl Essex' at Firstsite over the summer of 2019. The residency initiated a way to interrogate the term 'Essex Girl', which characterises women from Essex as 'unintelligent', 'promiscuous', and 'materialistic'. However, as the term historically references 'a white girl', the idea of prefixing Essex Girl with 'Black' seemed like a radical declaration that I felt compelled to unpack and explore, particularly as I had been living in the county for two decades and embarrassed about any association with the term. Moreover, I felt it was necessary to consider this exploration with other black folks in the county, which the residency allowed me to do"

Through discussions held with an intergenerational group of black folks living in Essex, the flag, along with a new film, 'Black Girl Essex: Here We Come, Look We Here' (2019), was conceived and first shown in the 'Super Black' (2019-20) exhibition at Firtstite. 

Related works and links

Southend Museums Press Release

Super Black exhibition

Black Girl Essex Firstsite residency

Black Girl Essex: Here We Come, Look We Here film

Policy No. 1: Disrupt The Existing Narratives exhibition

The Black Essex Flag was acquired by Beecroft Art Gallery in 2022 with support from SHARE Museums East and Arts Council England Acquisitions Grant, Art Fund and the Arts Council England and V&A Purchase Grant Fund. Southend Museums are grateful for the support of these organisations in allowing them to make this important acquisition

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