The Unrecognized Huichol Inspiration Behind Mexico’s Iconic ’68 Olympic Logo

I was too young, but I was halfway right. The logo of the 1968 Olympic Games – the first time that Mexico made an appearance in the contemporary world –was created by an American. But what very few people know, is that Lance Wyman based the sporting event’s famous geometric logotype on an indigenous Mexican culture that preserves its ancient lifestyle. We called them “Huicholes” – they call themselves “Wixáritari,” which means “the people.”

I first saw the design at twelve years old. I was with my father at La Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco close to the capital’s downtown, where nearly 48 years earlier, soldiers murdered hundreds of innocent people at the command of President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. With this bloodshed, Ordaz halted a civil movement that sought only to end the violent repression of students and free speech.

I didn’t understand how a government could do something like that. The military massacre took place just ten days before the Olympics opening ceremony, ostensibly to send a message to the entire planet that Mexico was no longer “poisoned” by the boiling unrest.

Meanwhile, the Olympics proved once again that sports are inextricable from politics. During the games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists in protest during the medal ceremony. The incident – which became known as the Black Power Salute – is still regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympics.

But despite the controversial political moment and its unfortunate context, Mexico seem to emerge to the world as a modern country with a stylish image.

Mexico seem to emerge to the world as a modern country with a stylish image.

Back then, the Olympic logo’s simplicity caught my undivided attention. My dad is a painter, and he explained that it was a really neat approach to contemporary Mexico – but my first impression was that a foreigner had been put in charge of designing the logo because “in Mexico, well-made things aren’t made by Mexicans.” It’s a quote that defines Malinchismo, a concept that values foreign cultures above Mexico’s native one; a sort of “reverse ethnocentrism,” if you will. It’s also symptomatic of the lack of recognition that pre-Columbian cultures have suffered.

Twenty-two years since that day at the Tlatelolco plaza, I have to recognize that I feel guilty. I was too young, but I was halfway right. My father said that a gringo is responsible for 1968 Olympic Games graphic identity.

But what my Dad didn’t know is that Lance Wyman – a graphic designer raised in New Jersey – made this revolutionary logo after his first encounter with Huichol culture. “We did very little research prior to going to Mexico,” Wyman told Walkerart. In the same interview, the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn graduate explained that his team had to research indigenous folk art and ancient imagery, noting that “we had the opportunity to work with Huichol artists from the state of Jalisco.”

Wyman recognized that they took the unique Huichol sense of color, but only used it to help develop the logo’s tonal programming. “It influenced my Olympic work, my Mexico City Metro work, and most of everything I’ve done since.” If you look at the black and white logo, this is evident.

Despite the vivid colors that characterize Huichol art, black represents life for this culture, and white is associated with the clouds, (because rain gives life.) I don’t know whether Wyman knew this. In an interview with Eye Magazine, the President of the Olympic Organizing Committee, Pedro Ramirez Vázquez, said that the first drafts of the logo design were made by two Huichol artists.

“Once we had the basic design concept down, the next important aspect of its development was the extension of the letters. It certainly wasn’t easy, and this idea was developed by Eduardo Terrazas. The application of the concept was then realised by Lance Wyman,” he said.

At that time, the Op Art movement was popular throughout the Western world. “We were going to address the whole world,” Ramírez Vázquez said, explaining that the visual language of that time had to be blended with huichol inspirations in a very easy concept. The basic goal was for everyone to identify the word “Mexico” and relate it to a modern aesthetic, (and therefore view it as a modern country.) Wyman realized that Op Art uses convergent, divergent, parallel and concentric lines, just like the art of the Huichol culture. Both styles collided.

Architect Terrazas said that the “Mexico 68” logo was more than just graphic design. “It has been presented as that as by Lance [Wyman] and a few others, because they are graphic designers, and they understand things only from the graphic designer point of view.” Also an urbanist, Terrazas was born in Guadalajara, and believes that the year 1968 was a turning point for Mexico. “Everything we did was in order to benefit the social and economic situation of Mexico,” he remembers.

“I would have to say that I felt dirty,” Wyman admitted to the “Walker Art” blog, when he was asked about the military massacre at “La Plaza de las Tres Culturas.”

But what he didn’t admit was any pangs of remorse for not recognizing the whole Huichol contribution to his work.