Mexico Seeks ‘Lost’ Children Artists For 50th Anniversary Of 1968 Olympic Games

By Rodrigo Cervantes
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2018 - 10:22am
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2018 - 10:23am

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Children paint murals
Po Shun Leong/Route Of Friendship
Children paint murals during the Mexico 1968 Olympic Games.

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Olympic Games. As part of its festivities, an exhibit in Mexico City will show paintings made by children from all over the world during the 1968 Mexico City Olympiad.

Back then, boys and girls from all over the globe sent drawings for the Mexico '68 Children's Painting Festival. Others painted small murals in Mexico City. Now, a nonprofit called Route of Friendship Board of Trustees looks for them through social media and with the help of some Mexican embassies.

The organizers have been looking for the now-adult artists for months, and while some of them have shown up, not a single American has been found.

Waiting For A Friend

“Oh, I love that photograph! I'm probably in there somewhere,” said Reginald Clifford while looking for himself in photos of children painting murals during the Mexico City Olympics. He was 12 years old.

“Then, I was having fun, but now, looking back, it’s like, wow, that was a really privileged place to be,” Clifford said.

Clifford is a sociologist in Mexico City of English descent. His European roots allowed him to represent the United Kingdom at the Mexico '68 Children's Painting Festival. And he fondly recalls painting with a Nigerian pal and attending to several Olympic activities.

Carolina Borja
Carolina Borja/Route of Friendship
Carolina Borja from the Route of Friendship Board of Trustees holds one the drawings for the children painting exhibit.

“It was a great time and, you know, you meet kids from everywhere. For me it was a huge eye opener to differences, and, that most differences don’t matter,” Clifford said.

His mural was selected for the UNICEF calendar from 1971, but he lost track of his work until a friend of his contacted him on Facebook to let him know that the Mexican Embassy in the United Kingdom was looking for him.

The sociologist is looking forward to see his painting exhibited and, furthermore, he hopes that it may allow him to find his Nigerian friend from back then, Olusegun Awosanya, whose mural will also be at the exhibition.

“I would love to find what happened to him and, if I could ever talk to him, cool,” Clifford said.

The Quest For Art, Artists And Memories

Carolina Borja is the cultural director for the Route Of Friendship. She explains that about 1,800 drawings arrived to Mexico from around 500 countries in 1968, while 200 children stayed for 15 days at the Olympic Village to paint canvases or murals about friendship.

But most drawings were either lost, abandoned or left behind in a children’s hospital. The Route Of Friendship has been able to rescue about 400 paintings and 30 murals for the exhibit — approximately 40 percent of the original total. And while they started rescuing the works, they also started looking for the authors.

“I think what has been most amazing is the emotional encounters,” Borja said.

So far, they’ve found people from distant places such as Ghana or Norway, but no one from the United States yet.

“It’s interesting because it’s one of the closest countries, and we haven’t been able to find the participants,” Borja said.

Most of the American drawings came from the Milwaukee Art Center, now turned into a museum, and from the Golden Gate Nursery in San Francisco.

Karen Kilimnik
Po Shun Leong/Route Of Friendship
Karen Kilimnik represented the United States at the Children Painting Festival of Mexico 1968.

The Board of Trustees is actively trying to contact them, as well as the now-artist Karen Kilimnik. She painted a mural that was found and which the UNICEF used for their 1971 calendar also.

“I don’t know, maybe if she’s out there listening, she will look for us,” Borja said, smiling.

Borja hopes to keep finding the authors to invite them to the show, connect them with old pals or, at least, to bring good memories back.

“People have been raising their hands. They remember and say, ‘wow, this is the thing that changed my life and, even though I was young, it twisted the way and direction of what I wanted to do,’” said Borja.

The new exhibit will be at El Rule Museum in downtown Mexico City, and Borja said they are hoping to take the exhibit to other parts of the world in the near future.