What if we dressed a huge model shark in a glittering rainbow suit?
The pitch for Progress Shark, a recent Australian viral sensation, was both "ridiculous" and "brilliant," as is true of many great ideas.
As Sydney prepares to host the month-long World Pride festival starting on Friday, the Australian Museum wanted to design an eye-catching and distinctive sign to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Additionally, somewhat by chance, a 10 m great white, or white shark, was already on display in front of the museum at one of the busiest intersections in the city.
Amanda Farrar, chair of the museum's pride committee, explains, "We went: 'Right, well how about we just cover it in a rainbow?'".
The end result, according to its designers, is a celebration of queerness that pays lycra a bold, colorful, and tasselled homage.
Additionally, it has a distinctly Australian feel to it—funny, irreverent, and stereotypically beach-ready.
It has unintentionally evolved into the symbol of the World Pride, Ms. Farrar tells the BBC.
Progress Shark has drawn attention from all over the world, inspired a ton of memes, and amassed a devoted following that includes Australian drag queen Courtney Act. It even has a fan account on Instagram.
When creating Progress Shark's outfit in her Sydney garage, artist George Buchanan, who realized the museum's vision, had no idea it would become so popular.
It's an absurd decision, she tells the BBC.
But in reality, that's what makes people happy. I believe that everyone could use a little humor in their lives. ".
It's this supposedly dangerous creature, but when you look at its face, it's actually quite adorable. It has a really sly grin on its face. ".
11 materials in various hues and textures make up the shark's couture ensemble, which is made up of two symmetrical "progress flags" that are an updated version of the Pride flag designed in 2018.
The real challenge lay in dressing the shark, even though creating swimmers for it is one thing.
The shark is suspended five meters in the air, so Ms. Buchanan and a helper had to literally sew the swimsuit onto the animal.
"We anticipated it taking about four hours, but it actually took about six or seven. ".
Progress Shark is a component of a larger public art initiative commemorating World Pride's arrival in Sydney.
A number of the city's most well-known streets have been painted in rainbow colors, the sails of the iconic Opera House will be illuminated with the progress flag, and the famous sea wall at Bondi Beach will be covered in Pride murals.
When compared to the infamous first Mardi Gras march that made its way through Sydney in 1978, the response is drastically different.
Police reacted quickly and violently when protesters peacefully marched beyond the area for which they had a permit.
Frank Howarth, a student at the time, tells the BBC, "I remember garbage tins being thrown through the air and people being dragged by the hair and arms into police vans and things like that.".
Others who were present recall hearing those who were detained wail in agony while being beaten in their jail cells.
Many Australian states, including New South Wales, still had laws against male homosexuality, and there was a constant undercurrent of fear in society.
According to Mr. Howarth, "I knew there were places you didn't go for fear of being bashed by thugs or, worse yet, trapped by police.".
"If any gay people were ever arrested, their names, addresses, and occupations would be published in the newspaper, among other things. ".
And there were the first whispers of murders motivated by homophobia. ".
The first Mardi Gras marchers, also known as "78ers," received a formal apology from the New South Wales Police in 2016, and officers now proudly participate in the parade.
According to Mr. Howarth, that is one indication of how Australia has changed in the years since the first march.
Both subtle and significant changes have been made. ".
Gay marriage is now legal, homosexuality is also, and it is now illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender or sexual orientation, with some religious exceptions.
There are "very, very few anomalies left on the legal rights front," according to Mr. Howarth.
Additionally, Anthony Albanese, the first-ever sitting prime minister, will participate in the Mardi Gras parade on February 25.
The celebrations, however, also come as the argument over gay conversion therapy, which is still legal in New South Wales, heats up.
So, even though Mardi Gras in Australia has shifted from being primarily a protest to being primarily a celebration, Mr. Howarth contends activism must still play a significant role in the event.
"Those rights had to be fought for, but they could be taken away at any time. " .
And while we've come to the realization that not everyone is straight, there is still much to be said about gender fluidity. ".
But Mr. Howarth, who just so happens to be a former director of the Australian Museum, says it's heartwarming to see Sydney decked out for World Pride.
"When we think back to 1978, there has been a significant change. ".
He claims that while attractions like Progress Shark are amusing, they also serve as powerful symbols of society's expanding acceptance.
The rainbow shark is sort of a symbol of that, in my opinion. There are jokes about not coming out of the closet but slamming the door. ".
"I smile because Anthony Albanese is participating in the parade and because of all the decorations in the city.