Minneapolis, MN—March, 2021—What is America? This is what Lauri Lyons asked as she traveled across the United States and Europe from 1995 to 2007, photographing and interviewing people with the American flag. The culmination of her work are two books and the multimedia project Flag: An American Story (2001) and Flag International (2008), both published before the Obama presidency. Selections from the Flag series are on view at MCAD from March 26 to May 9, 2021.

Through each person’s photographs and hand-written statements about the United States, the Flag series reveals what is beneath the surface of the American dream. Looking beyond stereotypes and into the minds of ordinary people, the project conveys deeply-held feelings about what the United States represents and what it has the potential to become.

In the context of our current political climate, the topics people wrote about in the Flag books one or two decades ago appear pulled straight from today’s news headlines. Individuals spoke about poverty, divisive politics, gun violence, the death penalty, racism, veterans’ affairs, immigration, LGBTQ rights, the defense budget, the prison pipeline, and health care being a human right. But it is not all about inequity—beauty, opportunity, and hopefulness also resonate in people’s words and images.

Revisiting the Flag series can continue to inspire an authentic dialogue about cultural understanding within a global framework. It is not enough to know how people or a nation views itself; it matters how the world views you.


When: Friday, March 26, 2021–Thursday, May 9, 2021
Where: MCAD Emeritus Gallery, 2501 Stevens Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404
Gallery Hours: Thursday–Sunday, 12:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.


Recognized nationally and internationally for its innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to visual arts education, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is home to 800 students and offers professional certificates, bachelor of fine arts and bachelor of science degrees, and graduate degrees.


Lauri Lyons has been able to view the United States from several perspectives: Black, female, first-generation American, and growing up a military child. Always being on the move made her curious about how people come to formulate opinions about themselves and others. She received her BFA in Media Arts from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1993 and her senior project seeded what would become the Flag series.

For many years, Lyons worked as a photo editor for several national magazines and organizations, including Magnum Photos agency, and was the first Black woman to shoot the cover of Fortune magazine. She is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the online publication Nomads Magazine. Lyons’s artistic practice has expanded to include books, sculptures, public art installations, and cultural preservation. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, including the Walker Art Center, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the International Center of Photography. In the Frame is an award-winning documentary about her life and work as an artist.