Citius, Altius, Fortius
As addicted as I’ve become to watching the Olympics, I find myself equally fascinated by the aesthetics of the event. Talk about a colorful occasion! The incredible scope and scale of the spectacle, the diversity of people and cultures represented, the wash of media pouring over and through it – not to mention the history that supports all of it. There’s a lot to take in.
The Olympic symbol seems to encompass this swirling fervor with simple elegance. Five equally-sized interlacing circles are colored, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green, and red, and set against a white field. This image was designed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, in 1912 (the ancient Olympics date back to 776 BC). The colors of the rings originally comprised all the colors of the national flags for the participating countries at that time; but the Olympic Charter now states, more broadly, that the Olympic Symbol “expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents [North and South America counted together as one continent] and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”
While de Coubertin never assigned specific ring colors to specific continents, painter Gustavo Sousa has done so in order to visualize global inequalities. Each ring represents a region of the world and, in light of everything from obesity to gun ownership to number of Facebook users, expands or retracts according to its statistical value. Like the Olympic symbol itself, these images are simple and elegant, and also potentially profound as the rings take on new meaning for the viewer. In an interview with Fast Company, Sousa explains, “The rings represent healthy competition and union, but we know the world isn’t perfect. Maybe understanding the differences is the first step to try to make things more equal.” Yet Sousa doesn’t reveal which rings stand for which regions of the world – that’s a puzzle left for us to ponder.