Traffic lights are like christmas lights to me, in December. Driving towards a crossing at night, some lights green, some red, I think of Christmas. New Year’s Eve I think of as black alternated with flashes of bright white. These are the colours on my mind this December.
Green is GO, Red is Stop. Black is darkness, White is light.
These are also the colors of the work “Forbidden Colors” by Felix Gonzalez- Torres from 1988: a series of four monochromes in Red, Green, Black and White. Colors that are, in any combination, strictly forbidden by the Israeli army in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Colors and art are never neutral.
Read this post on greg.org about the piece, including the text Felix Gonzalez-Torres wrote about it. A fragment:
…each of us perceives things according to who and how we are at particular junctures, whose terms are always shifting.
It is a fact people are discriminated against for being HIV positive. It is a fact the majority of the Nazi industrialists retained their wealth after war. It is a fact the night belongs to Michelob and Coke is real. It is a fact the color of your skin matters. It is a fact Crazy Eddie’s prices are insane. It is a fact that four colors red, black, green and white placed next to each other in any form are strictly forbidden by the Israeli army in the occupied Palestinian territories. This color combination can cause an arrest, a beating, a curfew, a shooting, or a news photograph. Yet it is a fact that these forbidden colors, presented as a solitary act of consciousness here in SoHo, will not precipitate a similar reaction.
From the first moment of encounter, the four colour canvases in this room will “speak” to everyone. Some will define them as an exercise in color theory, or some sort of abstraction. Some as four boring rectangular canvases hanging on the wall. Now that you’ve read this text, I hope for a different message.
Greg.org made his own version of the painting, and he ends with this observation, making clear that the piece, and the activism that inspired it, are still too relevant:
Meanwhile, it is a new fact that Israel, Germany, the UK, and places in the US, among others, are actually banning display of the colors of the Palestinian flag, part of an attempt to silence protest of the ongoing genocide in Gaza and attacks in the occupied West Bank.