Protest Art Is a Staple of the Olympics
Badiucao’s Olympic-Inspired Protest Art Continues a Long Trend
CBS News’ recent 60 Minutes profile of Chinese dissident artist Badiucao gave mention to his new work highlighting China’s role as next month’s Winter Olympics host in Beijing. A political satirist since 2011 now in exile, Badiucao looks to target his home government through provocative and searing street art and cartoons. And his new pieces debuted this past fall certainly strike into the rich territory of human rights abuses and authoritarian control that critics of the upcoming Olympic host have broadcast.
Badiucao has now also announced his Olympic-inspired art available as “open edition NFTs” (non-fungible tokens) beginning February 1, just days before the Games officially begin. This way, his art will be a “public decentralized record of protest”, broadening his reach and the ability for global comment.
While this NFT experiment is certainly a modern moment of today’s times, the idea of street art or cartoons used to target the Olympics is not. Of course, the global phenomenon that is the Games, carrying the global audience, expense, and self-purported lofty goals of unity, is always bound to attract scrutiny.
Typically, protest art has mined the issues of potential environmental destruction, the exploding expenses, the “ sports-washing” of host abuses, or bloated infrastructure. At times, hosts even seem to too readily open themselves up… the militarization against student activists just ahead of Mexico City 1968 and the razing of favelas to clean up Rio 2016’s image were tailor-made for artistic objection.
Beyond those usual issues, the current Covid-19 pandemic opened up a new concern for activists. In Tokyo, a local magazine parodied Tokyo 2020’s staging with an Olympic emblem-inspired mock-up with a pandemic twist. Naturally, it was not well-received in Olympic circles.
In his PhD research, USC professor Henry Jenkins delves deep into some of the history of Olympic protest art, commenting that “anti-Olympic art puts a spotlight on those who are excluded from the sports event and caught up in large processes of exclusion related to the Olympics”. Check out his excellent collection of protest imagery on Flickr.
The Olympics can be problematic. I get it — too big, too lofty, too expensive, too ripe for authoritarian abuse. But like Jenkins was, I am a “sucker for the branding”. I remain a fan.
But I also enjoy a good piece of Olympic satire. My favorite? It might be Criminal Chalkist’s “100 meter Dash 2011” appearing in Bristol ahead of London 2012, and considered a rebuke of Olympic commercialization.
So…what Olympic protest art has struck a nerve with you?