Lance Wyman, Olympics Logo Mexico '68
Cultural Identity through Modernity: Lance Wyman’s 1968 Olympic Design
Contained in American graphic designer Lance Wyman’s striking logo for the Mexico 1968 Olympic is a discourse on modernity and identity during a period in which Mexico struggled to redefine itself. A "burden of representation" was upon Mexico in the lead up to the 1968 games, and Wyman’s job was to construct a “coherent marketing approach that leveraged the nation’s perceived strengths while simultaneously reconfiguring (and erasing) its alleged weaknesses” (Zolov 163). Wyman’s design was intended to simultaneously evoke Mexico’s indigenous cultural heritage and its new cosmopolitan front, while silencing those involved with anti-government protests that tied into pre-existing tensions between racial and ethnic groups in Mexico. The radiating repeated black lines and curves play into the notion of modernity through an Op Art aesthetic, and generate a sense of orderliness and movement that attempts to dispel the stereotypes of Mexico as a sleepy land of mañana, or a stagnant ‘third-world’ country. Instead, they elicit the image of a forward-looking, organized country of the future. The government’s desire to promote a modernized Mexico in Western terms became a central aspect of planning for the Games. Thus, the design of the logo was not just the creation of Wyman; it was the design of the State.
Visually, the logo successfully fused the two sides of Mexico, the geometric shapes resonating with traditional Mexican imagery. Mexico’s first-of-its-kind Cultural Olympics was a way to celebrate this traditional side. However, the stage-managed displays of folklore compounded the already problematic racialized assumptions of Mexican backwardness- they became an opportunity to frame the nation’s ‘Indian’ (read darker) characteristics as safely contained within the staffed celebrations of ‘heritage’, while the ‘modern’ (read whiter) characteristics were openly celebrated as the embodiment of a new cosmopolitanism (Zolov 176).
Thus, the Cultural Olympics contributed to a reification of the ‘traditional’ as something detached from the ‘modern’ (Zolov 175). The ‘Mestizo identity’ was constructed as the essence of modern Mexico, envisioned as a nation of cultural synthesis. Mestizaje formed far more than a racial ideology- it was used to further a political ideology of modern national identity. Excluded from this discourse, however, were Mexico’s indigenous populations.
In designing the 1968 Olympics, Mexico’s embodiment of modernity was frequently defined with respect to a range of ‘others’– the primitive, the traditional, the irrational, the underdeveloped (Pratt 29). Mexico’s Olympics bid was their gold ticket into the category of first-world countries, but in their quest for modernization, Mexico’s indigenous populations became the required ‘other’. The possibilities of difference within the modern world have, unfortunately, been systematically denied, and thus we rely on fixed assumptions of what modernity means, while relatively isolated people represent its only adversary (Pratt 29).
However, certain elements of Wyman’s design demonstrate his effort to be inclusive. The symbolic nature of his designs rendered them capable of communicating with an extremely broad audience. The Olympic committee stipulated that all communications must be distributed in English, French, and Spanish, which Wyman overcame by creating a symbolic language of his own, which also extended to a significant part of the Mexican population who were illiterate (Rohan 157-158)
Wyman’s design celebrated Mexico’s Olympic achievements by creating a modernized identity that erased stereotypes of a sleepy nation in favor of a forward looking, cosmopolitan nation. However, the State’s new national identity also widened divisions between the elites (seen as governed by modernity) and masses (seen as governed by tradition, tribalism, or barbarism) due to modernity’s need for a reified ‘other’ (Pratt 28). Rather than interpreting the Cultural Olympiad as evidence of the regime’s success at constructing a cultural hegemony, it is a sign of that hegemony’s weakness and limitations (Zolov 187).
- Charlotte McKay and Zarah Udwadia
Pratt, Louise Mary. “Modernity and Periphery.” Beyond Dichotomies. Albany: SUNY Press, 2002.
Rohan, Tim. “Games Plan.” Wallpaper September (2000): 157-58.
“Wyman’s Way.” Creative Review 6 (2006): 42-47.
Lance Wyman, “Projects,”http://www.lancewyman.com/index.php (accessed 8 February 2015)
Zolov, Eric. “Showcasing the ‘Land of Tomorrow’: Mexico and the 1968 Olympics.” The Americas 61 (2004): 159-188.