Queering the Olympics: Graphic Designers & Illustrators go “Gay for Russia”

Continuing on with my exploration of visual culture and politics is taking me all over the place.  This time it has led me into the world of frank-flothmann-ASLTW-coaster2013sports.  What, I hear you cry?  Is David going to be writing about Gareth the Rugby Player once more?  Alas no, dear readers….sorry to disappoint you!  Instead we are taking a little trip to the Olympics.

The Winter Olympics and Russia to be precise.  You see, in case you have been living under a rock, the Winter Olympics are coming up in a few months time and they are taking place in Russia (in Sochi to be precise, official website here) where there has been a bit of jump-highercontroversy over those gay folk.   The Olympic Games are supposed to be all about peace, love, harmony, and sports (and the Spice Girls reforming of course (video in the link :-)) etc.  But lately the Russians have had this little thing going on about gay people.  In short they have passed a couple of laws that make it illegal to have pride parades, speak out in support of homosexuality, and are also in the process of passing laws against adoption by gay people too.  All of this has come to the attention of the press and media worldwide in a new way because of the Olympic association.  Even Cher has been in on the act with her very public refusal to be involved in the opening ceremony.

So what does all this have to do with visual culture and politics?  Graphic designers and illustrators, dear reader, that’s what.  While looking through the Advocate website I came across an interesting article about how Anna Goodson, head of the Anna Goodson Illustration Agency was so disturbed by the treatment of LGBTQ people in Russia that she asked all the illustrators in her agency if they would be interested in coming up with some artwork that dealt with the issue.  Another great example of how politics and visual culture come together to respond to ancoaster_marilynfaucher issue at hand.  It seems like everyone in her agency jumped at the chance (she’s the boss after all) and the results are quite interesting to see.  I’ve included a couple here and you can visit this link to see the rest of them.

What’s different about this project is that it uses illustration and the language of marketing, branding, and advertising to tackle the issue.  Graphic designers and illustrators are a fun bunch of people to be around and, as you can see, they are clever too.  They take aspects of current culture, visual design, and in this case politics and meld them together to put a message across in a way that is (in most cases) very successful and highly accessible.  It’s a form of branding propaganda in a way.  Obviously these are a little different from the kinds of things that they would be using for soap powder adverts, but you get the idea.  It’s also interesting to see how some of them have used examples of Soviet era art to put their point across as well.  Harking back to a previous age to put their point forward about a current regime.

Whether this will have any long-term influence on the politics that are surrounding the whole issue in Russia is debatable.  But what it does do is continue to raise the issues in a visible way.  In a world where often people have very little time to sit and read anymore, images like these can be very useful in getting a message across quickly.  Another example of how the visual world and paulblow_90political world can unexpectedly, but also intentionally collide.

Let’s hope that those two chaps with the moustaches don’t suddenly step apart from each other too quickly though.  That could be nasty….

Big love,




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