Subverting the Code: Designed National Symbols Beyond Reverence

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


Nationalist symbols have been customarily based on reverential references to the nation, such as coinage, stamps or statues recalling national glories from the past. This paper argues that there are other ways of expressing nationalism through for example the subversion of symbolic codes that at first sight might seem non-nationalist. It will analyze Gabriela Bustamante’s work 'To Kiss or not to Kiss’ (2015) that presents an alternative for a typical souvenir from the Netherlands, the figurines of a kissing couple. Customarily, these figurines depict a girl and a boy dressed in Dutch folk dress, made in ceramic and painted in shades of blue. Her version reminds these figurines in format, material and color but dressed in different costumes not limited to the Dutch folk dress. Some figurines are dressed in Chinese folk costume and some others wearing an Islamic headscarf. The designer argues that this souvenir represents the Netherlands more accurately thanks to its multicultural character. An interpretation of a traditional national symbol, this work both subverts its authority and reaffirms it at the same time. Far from being inoffensive, this design has awakened a high number of furious reactions, considering it irreverent or promoting the dissolution of the original Netherlands in foreign variations. Through the analysis of this case, this paper engages with discussions on ‘anti-nationalist nationalism’, which coins paradoxical positions on nationalism that reunite both conviction and skepticism (Kešić & Duyvendak 2016).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 7 Sep 2018
EventDesign History Society Conference: Design and Displacement - Parsons School of Design, New York, United States
Duration: 6 Sep 20188 Sep 2018


ConferenceDesign History Society Conference
Abbreviated titleDHS
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew York
Internet address


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