Every generation has a symbol, which comes to define the hopes and aspirations; the fears and concerns of that particular age.
Recent climate change protests in London, have seen one symbol rise to prominence: the hourglass in a circle.
It is the Extinction Symbol and it has been adopted as the logo for Extinction Rebellion.
Although the Extinction Rebellion logo is well-known, the identity of the artist behind it is shrouded in a Banksy-style cloak of mystery.
Unusually, the logo itself pre-dates the movement for which it has now become associated.
The symbol was created as a representation of extinction: the circle signifies our planet, while the hourglass is a reminder that time is running out for many species, teetering on the brink of extinction.
The symbol’s creator, known only as ESP––Extinction Symbol Person perhaps? No superior knowledge or extrasensory perception on my part; I am purely hazarding a guess––encourages the non-commercial distribution of the Extinction Symbol in order to disseminate this message, and has this advice for SOAS students keen to get involved with the XR movement:
“Find your local group by searching on social media. There are many different area groups even in London now, or contact the main Extinction Rebellion website to find your local group, then just go along to a meeting or event and get involved. There are also XR arts groups and suchlike if you’ve got a particular skill you want to offer.”
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Roll back time 60 years, and designer Gerald Holtom is creating a symbol destined to become an iconic image for the entire peace movement.
Originally commissioned to tie in with the first London to Aldermaston March in 1958, to protest about the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the now famous CND logo drew inspiration from an early-nineteenth century painting by Francisco Goya. El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid, depicts a peasant facing a firing squad during the Peninsular War, his arms thrown up in a Y-shape, expressive of despair. Holtom inverts the Y-shape in his logo, further emphasising the iconography of despair.
The shape created also melds together the semaphore symbols for N(uclear) and D(isarmament), where the letter N is represented by two flags, one held downwards to the right, and one downwards to the left; and the letter D is represented by one flag held straight up and one flag straight down.
At the time of its first appearance during the Aldermaston March, half of Holtom’s logos were printed with a black symbol on a white background, and half a white symbol on a green background. This was meant to signify the intrinsic optimism of the group’s aims, moving from a grayscale winter to a colourful spring.
Somewhere between the creation of the symbols for Nuclear Disarmament and Extinction, Smiley raised its frankly cheery and optimistic head.
The Smiley traces its history back to 1963, and a commission for the ad-man Harvey Ross Ball to attempt to raise morale in an insurance company against a difficult backdrop of restructure and redundancy. The now-familiar, yellow, smiley face was reproduced on thousands of badges across the organisation.
However, it was not until the 1970s before the symbol gained worldwide recognition. At a similar time, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Bernard and Murray Spain copyrighted a slightly revised version of the Smiley in Philadelphia, while in France, journalist Franklin Loufrani registered the symbol for commercial use, a move which quickly spawned a Smiley empire.
The Smiley was appropriated as a symbol of counter-culture during the heydays of psychedelia and flower-power in the 1970s and rave in the late 1980s and, after all that hedonism, now leads a ubiquitous and relatively peaceful retirement as a popular computer emoticon.
But could the Smiley’s origins date back even further than 1963? The discovery of a Hittite pot, found in Karkamış, Turkey, and dating to the second millennium BCE would suggest it may be so.
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