Artist Paul Coombs Speaks Out About His ‘ISIS Dildo Flag’

Sex toys can deliver a scathing political and ideological critique.

Paul Coombs
The Dildo ISIS flag at the London Pride Parade. Photo: Paul Coombs.

The Dildo ISIS flag at the London Pride Parade.
Photo: Courtesy of Paul Coombs.

A black-and-white flag that appeared during the London Pride Parade on June 27 quickly became known as the “ISIS dildo flag” after a CNN editor mistakenly thought she had spotted the Islamic State banner during the festivities.

Artist Paul Coombs recently wrote an op-ed in the Guardian about why he created the flag.

The ISIS flag “has become a potent symbol of brutality, fear and sexual oppression,” Coombs wrote. Replacing the Arabic script with dildos and butt plugs was his way of lambasting the organization’s interpretation of Islam. “If I wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue about the ridiculousness of this ideology, the flag was key.”

The London-based artist holds an animation degree from the Edinburgh College of Art, and is slated to obtain a Master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in 2017. The piece is an extension of Coombs’s earlier work, in which he inserts images of sex toys into postcards from countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Paul Coombs, <em>Postcard to a Friend (Alpine Up & Downer)</em>, 2014. Photo: Paul Coombs.

Paul Coombs, Postcard to a Friend (Alpine Up & Downer) (2014).
Photo: Courtesy of Paul Coombs.

“The flag was so clearly made of dildos that I never thought it could be mistaken for an actual Isis flag,” Coombs wrote.

Nevertheless, the news team at CNN failed to recognize the sexual imagery on the flag, and reported on its appearance at the parade as if it were the real thing. “Just In: ISIS Flag Spotted at Gay Pride Parade,” the headline read.

“If you look at the flag closely, it’s clearly not Arabic,” said CNN international assignment editor Lucy Pawle during the broadcast. “In fact, it looks like it could be gobbledegook. But it’s very distinctively the ISIS flag.”

The Dildo ISIS flag at the London Pride Parade. Photo: Paul Coombs.

The Dildo ISIS flag.
Photo: Courtesy of Paul Coombs.

The news story quickly caught the attention of more eagle-eyed viewers, sparking the hashtag #DildoISIS.

Partway through the parade, Coombs was approached by a pair of grinning police officers who advised him to put the flag away, since they were getting reports about it and didn’t want the artist to become a target. He then concealed it.

Coombs considers the project a success, citing a message board post that read “whenever I see the Isis flag anywhere, all I can see is dildos!”

“Mission accomplished,” Coombs concluded.

#Dildosis (Flag With RPG's)’ / Acrylic on Giclee Print / 21 cm x 29.4 cm / 2015.Photo: www.paulcoombs.co.uk.

Paul Coombs, #Dildosis (Flag With RPG’s) (2015).
Photo: Courtesy of Paul Coombs.


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