Egypt Independent

Critic’s pick: Art from the ‘happy’ Olympic Games



The official motto of the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 was "Die Heiteren Spiele," or The Happy Games. The Federal Republic of Germany wanted to send out a positive image of itself, one of hope and peaceful coexistence after decades of struggle.

Art seemed like the best way to go, so the organizing committee invited a selection of established artists from around the world to design the Olympic Games' first "art posters." Thirty-five posters were designed, some were printed on high-quality paper and signed by the artists to appeal to art collectors and help fund the games.

American artist Jacob Lawrence — known for his portrayal of the strife of African-Americans through works such as "The Migration of the Negro" series — was among those invited. He created a poster showing five runners with grimacing faces taking strides around a curving track as they approach the finish line.

The poster was made to honor black athletes' participation in the Olympic games. Track runner Jesse Owens won a record four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Those were the same games from which Adolf Hitler initially tried to ban black and Jewish athletes in an attempt to prove the superiority of the German Aryan race. When other countries threatened to boycott the games, he went back on his decision. Lawrence's poster is a record of that historical moment, as well.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.