Olympian Artists-in-Residence interpret Olympic values in series of artworks for Olympic Agora

The first-ever Olympic Agora opened on 1 July ahead of the Olympic Games, and one of the highlights of the cultural programme is the series of bespoke artworks created by Olympian and Paralympian artists, based on their interpretation of the Olympic values. A virtual tour of the exhibition will be available from 14 July. 

Noren Curtains exhibition 2021 – IOC / Junpei Kato – All rights reserved

Entitled The Noren Curtains, this site-specific group exhibition showcased at the Mitsokoshimae metro station in Tokyo has works spanning photography, painting, graffiti and graphic design. 

For Hannah Wilkinson, who will compete at Tokyo 2020 as a member of the New Zealand football team, painting for the Olympic Agora presented an opportunity to find balance.

“Being an Olympian is an enormous honour, as it defines my approach to being the best I can be in every aspect of life,” said the 29-year-old, who has represented New Zealand at three FIFA Women’s World Cups and two Olympic Games, London 2012 and Rio 2016. “Being an elite athlete, sometimes the pressure can seep in. When this happens, art is my retreat where I can re-balance myself.”

Hannah Wilkinson, Ad Meliora (Toward Better Things) (2021) Hannah Wilkinson, Ad Meliora (Toward Better Things) (2021)

As an artist, Wilkinson works with ink, digital art, tattoo design and graffiti art, and her works for the Noren Curtains are inspired by Japanese anime. One of her panels, entitled “Ad Meliora” (Towards Better Things), celebrates the evolution of the Olympic Games and the new sports that will be on view in Tokyo; a surfer takes centre stage, as surrounding cherry blossoms represent spring and a time of revival after the major disruption of the pandemic. 

Slaven Dizdarević, New Sports (2021) Slaven Dizdarević, New Sports (2021)

Such symbolic motifs can also be found in the work entitled “New Sports” by track and field athlete Slaven Dizdarević. Among the six panels painted by Dizdarević, the first Slovak decathlete to participate in the Olympic Games (Beijing 2008), this painting depicts each of the five new sports – baseball, surfing, karate, skateboarding and sport climbing – carrying one of the colours of the Olympic rings. 

“For me, Olympic culture means the long-term legacy that Olympism leaves behind,” said Dizdarević. “It is about reflecting the Olympic values in one’s thoughts and carrying oneself as an Olympian, on the sports field and off it. The Games inspire young generations and motivate them to lead better lives.”

Kelly Salchow MacArthur, Hope (2021) Kelly Salchow MacArthur, Hope (2021)

Equally inspiring are the five graphic design panels by Kelly Salchow-MacArthur. Now a Professor of Graphic Design at Michigan State University, rower Salchow-MacArthur competed in the quadruple sculls in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004

“These Noren curtains attempt to capture many things simultaneously,” she explained. “They represent micro and macro moments that may occur during shinrin-yoku – known as forest bathing in English – calming, balancing, healthful, hopeful and rich with wonder. The inherent need for humans to connect with the natural environment is a thread that all cultures share. These curtains visualise parallels between our shared experiences with nature and our shared experiences through the Olympics.”

Her works are entitled “In Peace”, “In Joy”, “In Hope”, “In Honour” and “In Sport”, with the latter depicting sport as the culmination of work and sacrifice, with admiration for the athletes and reverence for global harmony. “The Olympics create this collective experience,” she added.

Roald Bradstock, The Race Against Time (2021) Roald Bradstock, The Race Against Time (2021)

Two-time Olympian and former javelin record-holder Roald Bradstock, who competed at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988, also participated as an Olympic Artist at PyeongChang 2018.

About his work entitled “The Race Against Time”, he said: “In this painting, I turned the five Olympic rings into five figures running for the finish line. The race is on to get back to normal, to find a cure for the COVID-19 virus, to overcome the pandemic. The postponed Tokyo 2020 Games, being held in 2021, are a historic and symbolic event.”

Bradstock, who is Chair of the World Olympians Association (WOA) Art Committee,  OLY Arts, added: “‘The Race Against Time’ is a symbolic image that captures this unique moment in human history and Olympic history. We are all individuals, yes, but to win this race we must work together collectively, put aside our differences and become one global community helping each other.”

Gregory Burns is an internationally recognised artist, who approaches his canvases with the same passion he had while setting four world records in swimming during three editions of the Paralympic Games: Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000. Gregory Burns, Focus

Like Bradstock, Gregory Burns is an internationally recognised artist, who approaches his canvases with the same passion he had while setting four world records in swimming during three editions of the Paralympic Games: Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.

“We excel in sport by doing things we don't want to do and by not doing things we do want to do,” Burns said about his painting entitled “Focus”. “All our sacrifices are focused on the target, on the goal we have set for ourselves. Like a laser beam, which concentrates everything on a single point, Olympians and Paralympians fine-tune themselves in order to achieve something beyond themselves. We take aim and surmount obstacles in our efforts to be our best.”

 Ciara Michel, More than an Athlete: Jordan Larson (2021) Ciara Michel, More than an Athlete: Jordan Larson (2021)

Volleyball player Ciara Michel, meanwhile, views her fellow athletes through a special lens and sees them as “more than athletes”. Michel, who represented Team Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympic Games, uses photography and videography to highlight female athletes as “more than athletes”. Her works for the Olympic Agora include depictions of Jordan Larson, Sheilla Castro and Tayyiba Haneef-Park, all two-time Olympic medallists.

“They are exceptional athletes but have many more facets to their personalities,” said Michel. “Every Olympian has a story. Each story starts with talent and becomes a dream; and each protagonist is tested by failure, strengthened through hard work, encouraged by family and challenged by competition. Every Olympian has a story that begins long before the Games and will continue long after. And every Olympian is so much more than an athlete.”

The Olympian Artists-in-Residence programme is run by the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage (OFCH), in collaboration with the IOC Sports Department, with support from the WOA in the initial call for entries.

WOA President Joël Bouzou OLY said: “The inaugural Olympic Agora demonstrates the important bond between sport and culture in the Olympic Movement, and features valuable contributions from Olympians across the world.

“Olympians embody the Olympic spirit, and the Agora’s Olympian Artists-in-Residence programme highlights how Olympians make a positive impact beyond their sporting careers. I look forward to enjoying the digital exhibition, and I’m sure everyone who sees it either in person or online will be inspired by the fantastic artwork presented.”

The virtual tour of The Noren Curtains will debut on the Olympic Agora website on 14 July. Launched by the OFCH at PyeongChang 2018, the programme celebrates the link between sport and culture by offering opportunities to athletes with artistic interests to produce and present new artworks during and between editions of the Olympic Games.

For press enquiries please contact:

Tina Sharma, OFCH PR and Communications Manager



For other enquiries, please contact:

Irena Koblar, OFCH Arts & Culture Project Coordinator


Related News
  • Tokyo 2020 Games Iconic Posters Unveiled Tokyo 2020

    Tokyo 2020 Games iconic posters unveiled

  • First Olympic Agora cultural hub opens in Tokyo Tokyo 2020

    First Olympic Agora cultural hub opens in Tokyo

  • Rendering of the installation Solidarity + Collaboration Tokyo 2020

    “Olympic Agora” cultural hub to open ahead of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

  • IOC News

    The Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage presents “Tomorrow’s Leaves”, an animated film inspired by the Olympic values

  • The Olympic Museum Culture and heritage

    Exploring Olympic Language in Tokyo

  • Olympic Museum Tokyo 2020

    Tokyo 2020 unveils official art posters to celebrate the Games

back to top