Co-Opting a Symbol

Lots of talk and strong emotions have surfaced recently regarding some symbols.

Since I’m an artist who specializes in symbolic art this isn’t new subject for me. I can say there are certain symbols I will not ever reproduce. From a historic point of view these symbols hold a totally different meaning than they do today. But once co-opted to represent something else it’s almost impossible to reset the meaning. We all recognize the Swastika as a symbol representing the Nazi regime and we know the atrocities they committed. The history of the symbol is ancient and it has stood for good luck for centuries until it was co-opted and we in the western world will never in our lifetimes see this symbol as anything but a Nazi symbol.

Clockwise from top left – Celtic Triple Spiral, West African Adinkra Symbol, Chinese Happiness  Symbol and Zen symbol Enso

It’s unfortunate this happens with symbols.  They are a short hand for much larger thoughts and ideas, they are also ripe to be taken and used for other purposes.

We are seeing this play out daily. I’m a history buff as many people are. Sadly one can be a history buff and still be on the wrong side of this when a symbol comes to stand for something else. If you make the case the new meaning doesn’t affect the old your kidding yourself. That’s what co-opting is – diverting the meaning or use in a role different from the usual or original one. It over takes the original meaning.

We are witnessing this with the confederate flag. Having lived in the South for 20 plus years I heard many reasons for why people revere this flag and I also heard from people who lived there and found it offensive for as many reasons. One thing for sure it’s now being flown side by side the Nazi flag and it’s been co-opted.

History is something to be remembered not revered. There’s need for a museum to place Civil War symbols and memorabilia. We will never learn the lessons of the past if we don’t look at it with eyes and minds wide open.


If you’d like to see more of my symbolic work visit my website






    • Thanks Lee I think its important to remember history but I can’t sit quietly when a group of people want to rewrite or gloss over some horrendous facts of this nations history. Owning our past, warts and all is what will make us a better nation.


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