Inside the Collection

Sydney Mardi Gras: a daring, dazzling and defiant display of difference

Flamboyant Mardi gras costume with large feather head piece, fan and mermaid dress with big colourful pom poms
96/305/2 ‘Cotton Blossom’ costume designed, made and worn by Ron Muncaster, for 1994 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Over the next 4 weeks, if the rain abates and the sun shines, the city of Sydney will come to life as 1000s of men and women fly into Sydney from around Australia and the world for the 2012 Sydney Mardi Gras which kicked off last Sunday with the annual Victoria Park Fair Day. This festival follows close on the heels of its New Orleans counterpart.

The Powerhouse Museum‘s collection includes a number of objects related to this internationally significant Sydney event, including David McDiarmid’s iconic poster for the 1988 Mardi Gras which places Australia on top of the world.

Bright and colorfully illustrated poster for the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras
95/339/10 Poster designed by David McDiarmid for 1988 Sydney Gay Mardi Gras. Gift of Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Limited, 1995. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The design of this and other Mardi Gras posters captures something of the exuberance and the spectacular costume and float designs associated with the Mardi Gras parade.

This year Mardi Gras celebrates its 35th anniversary by welcoming the return of Kylie Minogue and singer/songwriter Sam Sparrow. Both will perform at Mardigrasland, the bejewelled party environment set to take over Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter for the final days of the 2012 party season. As part of Mardi Gras’ earlier 20th anniversary celebrations, the Museum mounted an exhibition titled Absolutely Mardi Gras: costume and design of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (1997).

The 2012 Mardi Gras program is packed with events like the Fair Day, Drag Races, a Youth Festival, Pool Party, etc but its the Mardi Gras Parade (7.45 to 10pm, 3 March) and the After-Parade Party at Mardigrasland (10pm -8am, 3-4 March) which form the key spots on the calendar for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersexed communities to get together to celebrate differences and commonalities with friends, family and community supporters.

Sculptural colorful Mardi Gras Costume, large head piece with geometric objects bold colours
95/172/1 Costume designed by Peter Tully, for 1990 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Peter Tully (1947-1992) the designer of the 1995 Mardi Gras costume illustrated above was creative director for Mardi Gras from 1982-1986. Under his tenure, the Mardi Gras workshop was founded and the Sydney Mardi Gras transformed from a political march to a cultural event. Tully and Ron Muncaster (1936- ), were two of Mardi Gras’ most spectacular costume designers. Muncaster’s ‘Cotton Blossom’ costume for the 1994 Parade is illustrated at the top of this post.

Concept collage for the 1990 Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras
98/173/6 and 95/339/3-1, Preparatory collage (on left) by David McDiarmid for the 1990 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras poster (right). Collage, gift of the Estate of the late David McDiarmid, 1998; Poster, gift of Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Limited, 1995. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The Museum’s collection also includes the original artwork that is a conceptual collage for the 1990 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. This poster was also designed by David McDiarmid (1952-1995).

The Museum’s Mardi Gras collection has been developing over a 25 year period, mainly as gifts of the organisers, the artists or their family and friends. These wonderful objects shine a light on the history of Sydney Mardi Gras and the aspirations and concerns of the Mardi Gras organisers and participants. The poster collection includes all Mardi Gras posters from 1981 to 1998, but we are still missing the three earliest posters (1978, 1979 and 1980) and have also not yet acquired the posters from 1999 through to 2012. If readers have copies of any of these missing posters in good condition, especially the earlier designs, and be willing to donate them to the collection, please contact the curator at or 92170161.

Post by Anne-Marie Van de Ven

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