Sarah Slack visits the Mexico 68 exhibition at the University of Essex, and explores its themes of modern aesthetic and student protest.
In 1968, Mexico became the first non-western country to host the Olympic Games, and at the Arts on 5 gallery at the University of Essex an exhibition has been created exploring the designs used by officials for the event. As the first Latin American country to host the games, there was a need for Mexico to not only impress but to deny the doubts Western countries had, as one newsletter of 1968 published, “there does exist a need to satisfy the public’s curiosity.” Aside from curiosity, the doubts observers displayed were made in realisation of the domestic situation in Mexico, where the active students movement raised fears over the potential they possessed to disrupt the proceedings. The exhibition therefore reveals the importance of these visual materials as it reveals the issues which affected their creation, as well as highlighting how official designs were copied and used by artistic student protestors to their own ends.
The exhibition consists of two parts, the first displaying the artwork and designs created officially for the 1968 Olympics. They show how a key theme in their conception was making any publication or material issued in association with the event universal, which it achieves through a reliance on colour and symbols. Links were made between colours and the sports, where volleyball tickets would be printed in orange, (corresponding with its timetable where all volleyball events were printed against the same colour). Additionally the symbols used on all Olympic publications - such as tickets, timetables and pamphlets - all feature universal logos rather than descriptions of the sports performed, making them easily identifiable and recognisable.
The second part of the exhibition contrasts these official designs with a multitude of reactionary and critical student posters. During 1968 Mexican students publicly exhibited suspicion over the power of the police and their President, with their anger increasing ten days before the opening ceremony in October when government troops massacred an estimated 300 protesters in Mexico City. The posters therefore highlight how the Olympics were seen as being used by the Mexican government to mask domestic conflicts. They consequently demonstrate the importance of student artwork due to how they echoed the true sentiments and concerns of the period, and made sure the Olympics were not used as a distraction from corruption.
Whilst the two elements of the exhibition show some similarities in the colours and symbols used, where they differ lies within their content. The official designs show the importance of creating a universal code for the Olympics in a period of increasing globalisation, but also maintaining a system which their own Mexican population could understand regardless of literacy or language. Additionally, the student posters, which were largely critical of the event and the government which supported it, implicitly highlighting the increasingly violent domestic situation, and how the Olympics were seen as being used by the Mexican government to conceal the realities within the host country.
‘Contested Games: Mexico 68’s Olympic design revolution’ runs at the Art Exchange at the University of Essex until the 14th July. For more information on the exhibition, click here.