What if a massive model shark was dressed in a sparkling rainbow bathing suit?
The Progress Shark pitch was both "ridiculous" and "brilliant," as is true of many great ideas. Progress Shark is a recent Australian viral sensation.
As Sydney prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors for the month-long World Pride festival beginning on Friday, the Australian Museum wanted to design a colorful and distinctive sign to greet them.
A 10m great white, or white shark, was already on display in front of the museum at one of the busiest intersections in the city, which was a bit of a coincidence.
The head of the museum's pride committee, Amanda Farrar, says, "We went: 'Right, well how about we just cover it in a rainbow?'".
The outcome, according to its designers, is a queer celebration—a loud, vibrant, and tasselled homage to lycra.
And it's unmistakably Australian—funny, irreverent, and stereotypically beach-ready.
According to Ms. Farrar, it has unintentionally become the symbol of world pride.
Progress Shark has drawn attention from all over the world, inspired countless memes, and won adoring fans, including drag artist Courtney Act from Australia. Even its own Instagram fan page exists for it.
George Buchanan, the artist who realized the museum's vision, had no idea Progress Shark would become so popular when she was making its outfit in her Sydney garage.
She tells the BBC, "It's a ridiculous choice.
"But that's actually what makes people happy... I think people need a little bit of humor in their lives," the speaker continued. ".
"This supposedly dangerous creature now has a very, very cute face when you look at it from the front. It grins with a very sly grin. ".
A modernized version of the Pride flag created in 2018, the shark's couture ensemble is made up of 11 materials in various colors and textures that have been fashioned into two symmetrical "progress flags.".
The real challenge was in dressing it; designing swimmers for a shark is one thing.
The swimsuit had to be physically sewn onto the shark, which is suspended five meters in the air, by Ms. Buchanan and a helper.
Our initial estimate was for it to take four hours, but it actually took six or seven. ".
A larger public art initiative honoring the arrival of World Pride in Sydney includes Progress Shark.
Along with Pride murals covering Bondi Beach's famous sea wall and some of the city's most well-known streets being painted in rainbow colors, the sails of the iconic Opera House will be illuminated with the progress flag.
A completely different response was given to the infamous first Mardi Gras march that passed through Sydney in 1978.
Police reacted quickly and violently when protesters peacefully marched past the area where they were allowed to do so.
Frank Howarth, a student at the time who recalls seeing people being dragged into police vans by their hair and arms, says, "I remember garbage tins being thrown through the air and people being dragged by the hair and arms and things like that.".
Others who were present recall hearing those who were detained wail in agony from their jail cells as they were beaten.
Many Australian states, including New South Wales, still forbade male homosexuality, and fear permeated everyday life.
I was aware that there were some locations you should avoid going to in order to avoid being attacked by thugs or, worse yet, trapped by police, Mr. Howarth said.
"If any gay people were to be detained, they would publish their names, addresses, occupations, and other information in the newspaper. ".
The first reports of murders motivated by homophobia began to circulate. ".
The New South Wales Police, also known as the "78ers," who participated in the first Mardi Gras parade, received a formal apology in 2016; as a result, the police proudly participate in the parade.
That's one indication of how Australia has changed in the years since the first march, according to Mr. Howarth.
The transformation has been both subtle and significant. ".
Today, discrimination based on a person's gender or sexual orientation is illegal, with some religious exceptions. Homosexuality is also now legal, as is gay marriage.
Very few anomalies remain in terms of legal rights, according to Mr. Howarth.
Additionally, Anthony Albanese, the current prime minister, will participate in the Mardi Gras parade on February 25 for the first time ever.
The joyous occasions, however, also coincide with a heated uprising in the debate over the use of gay conversion therapy, which is still permitted in New South Wales.
Therefore, Mr. Howarth contends that activism must continue to play a significant role in Mardi Gras, even though it has changed from being primarily a protest to a celebration in Australia.
Although those rights had to be fought for, they could be easily revoked. " .
And while we've arrived at the realization that not everyone is straight, the conversation regarding gender fluidity still needs to advance. ".
However, Mr. Howarth, a former director of the Australian Museum who just so happens to be gay, says it is heartwarming to see Sydney decked out for World Pride.
"There is such a big difference when we think back to what it was like in 1978. ".
He claims that while Progress Shark and other attractions are amusing, they are also powerful symbols of society's expanding acceptance.
"There are jokes about not opening the closet door but smashing it down, and the rainbow shark is kind of a symbol of that," the speaker said. ".
"I can't help but smile because Anthony Albanese is participating in the parade and there are so many decorations all over the city.