Students Staff

12 June 2012

Contested Games: Mexico 68's Olympic design revolution

Designs for stamps from the Mexico Olympics

In 1968 the 'Peace Olympics' were held in Mexico City – just ten days before the opening ceremony hundreds of peaceful protestors were massacred as part of a Government clampdown.

A new exhibition at Art Exchange at the University of Essex investigates this period and features the protest posters created by the demonstrators beside the ground-breaking official Olympic designs they looked to subvert.

Contested Games: Mexico 68's Olympic design revolution from Monday 11 June to Saturday 14 July looks at the way design represents ideas, influences perceptions, feeds off popular culture and hijacks existing imagery.

The powerful poster designs developed by the protestors used official Olympic motifs to try to expose the double standards of the Mexican government of the time and plead for greater democratization. Rooted in the art schools of Mexico City, the designers also integrated other ideas from popular culture and imagery from previous protest movements.

In contrast Lance Wayman and his team created a comprehensive Olympic design strategy for Mexico ’68 which is still seen as influential today. Everything from tickets and maps through to stamps and other merchandise were carefully designed in line with an overarching brand with logos, icons and imagery influenced by indigenous art.

The way official designs were appropriated by the student protesters is sometimes subtle, but often brutally clear. ‘Everything is possible with peace’ was the slogan on billboards around Mexico City during the build-up to the Games and the image of the white peace dove created to symbolise the event was seen everywhere. The visual riposte of one iconic poster design was to depict the dove impaled on a bayonet.

The exhibition is curated by Zanna Gilbert, a PhD student in the School of Philosophy and Art History. She said: “The student movement's appropriation of the Olympic design is one of the most fascinating, but underexplored aspects of the Mexico ’68 legacy. Taking advantage of the powerful imagery designed by Lance Wyman the students attempted to reclaim the power to narrate the reality of the situation in Mexico.”

Zanna has been able to draw on art work from the personal collection of London-based architect John Adams, who was part of the Olympic Organising Committee and worked with Lance Wayman. She has also brought to the UK original protest posters from the archive of the University Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City.

Zanna said: “The exhibition has been organised to mark the Olympic Games in London and one of the themes it explores is what is at stake when a country hosts the Olympics – what happens in the gap between the ideals of universal values that the Games represent and the political reality in the host country.”

A programme of events has been organised to coincide with Contested Games: Mexico 68's Olympic design revolution:

Thursday 19 July to Saturday 28 July – Olympics by Design, Art Exchange is inviting young people in the local area to submit their own design for a follow-up exhibition at the gallery.

Thursday 21 June – Curator’s Lunchtime Tour.

Friday 29 June – Designing the Nation: Olympics, Authority and Unrest panel discussion. The events of the Mexico Olympics in 1968 tell a fascinating tale of a nation struggling to represent itself to the rest of the world, while unable to quell dissatisfaction among its own population. This panel discussion considers the gap between the intentions of Olympic organisers in promoting nations to the world against the backdrop of crisis and social unrest. Speakers include architect John Adams, who was part of the Mexico 68 Olympic design team, Professor Valerie Fraser who will discuss the student movement and Pablo León de la Barra. The event will be followed by a drinks reception.


For further information or to request high-resolution images please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 874377 or e-mail:

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