The 2012 Summer Olympics kick off July 27 in London, bringing us a parade of flags from countries around the globe. Think of it as a rare free art exhibit. While the flag designs may not reach the same creative heights as, say, Picasso or Dali, many of them are interesting enough to merit mention on a top 10 list. And because even bad art can sometimes be fun, we’ve also included another half dozen or so national flags that are so bad they wouldn’t even earn a place on our kitchen fridge.
The zigzags make it, literally adding an edgy line of interest to what otherwise could have been a really boring flag. Qatar’s flag gets even edgier when you know the deep maroon hue depicts the country’s bloodshed, balanced out by the white side, symbolizing peace.
A homey, cozy feel oozes from the Turkmenistan flag, and with very good reason. The designs down the left side of the flag, known as guls, are the same designs used for making carpets in the country’s rich history of rug-making. Add the olive branches at the bottom of the strip and the moon and stars on an appealing green background and you’ve got a jolly fine design. Although the flag is the most intricate of all the countries’ flags, it doesn’t jolt our brains into artistic overload.
While some may view Japan’s flag as on the boring side, it is one of the easiest to recognize and enjoy due to its purity and simplicity. A white background sports a blazing red sun. The end. Besides, people spend bazillions of dollars for paintings that aren’t much more than a dot or a line on a canvas. That automatically elevates Japan’s flag into fine art, no?
Packed with symbolism yet still simple enough to be aesthetically appealing, Kiribati’s flag snatches a glorious moment in time and eternalizes it. The number of sunrays and white water lines on the Pacific Ocean represent the number of islands in the group, while the bird soars as a sign of authority and freedom.
6. South Korea
Huge impact and a bold design put South Korea’s flag on the best list. The symbol for Yin-yang takes center stage, flanked by stark black trigrams from the I Ching, or Book of Changes, near each corner. Symmetry, balance, movement and harmony grace this design, with the yin-yang balancing positive and negative forces and each trigram representing one of the four elements.
5. Sri Lanka
Known as the Lion Flag (for obvious reasons), Sri Lanka’s flag depicts a funky-looking lion and so much more. The lion stands for strength and bravery. The four leaves around him depict the four Buddhist virtues of kindness, equanimity, friendliness and happiness. Even the somewhat ho-hum beige-orange works with the design, offsetting the vibrancy of the other colors.
4. Papua New Guinea
Not only is the country’s name fun to say, but its bold black and red contrasting flag is fun to look at. A yellow, feathery bird of paradise, a New Guinea denizen, represents tribal culture while the Southern Cross star constellation symbolizes the country’s connection to others in the South Pacific.
Nepal gets major artistic kudos for going out on a limb with its double-triangle flag, a flag-designing risk that may be akin to Andy Warhol and his soup cans. Nepal’s flag is the only national flag in the world that is not a square or rectangle. The moon is on top, resenting serenity, while the sun in the lower portion is a sign of bravery and victory.
Two-headed eagle, anyone? This symmetrical symbol makes a striking centerpiece for Albania’s flag, especially since the design came from the family coat of arms of a 15th-century hero who led a few regions to independence. The black eagle contrasts keenly with the vibrant scarlet background, creating a powerful and eye-catching image.
Not only does Bhutan’s emblem of the Thunder Dragon steal the show as the best flag on the list, but it would make an even cooler tattoo than Albania’s double-headed eagle. The dragon’s white body symbolizes purity while the jewels clutched in his claws denote wealth. The Thunder Dragon, also known as Druk, a creature of Bhutanese mythology, balances between the orange and yellow triangles, which represent the secular and spiritual powers in this Buddhist country.
And now, as promised, the 5 worst flag designs in the world:
5. Monaco, Indonesia and Poland
A three-way tie takes the No. 5 slot on the worst flag list, mainly for their lack of originality. Monaco, Indonesia and Poland each have flags that feature a white band and red band of color — and that’s it. While the same dot-art lovers who dig Japan’s flag may once again go wild over such simplicity, it tends to put the rest of us to sleep. Poland puts the red on the bottom, by the way, and Monaco’s flag is a tad shorter than Indonesia’s.
4. Saint Lucia
Although the triangle represents Saint Lucia’s cone-shaped volcanic structures that symbolize the island, the design is still too reminiscent of a nuclear zone warning sign to be enjoyable. The bland colors don’t help, combining a washed-out gold with a weak blue hue. Even the color’s symbolism, with blue for sea and sky and gold for prosperity, is too cliché to be admirable.
The castle design that hogs the center of Gibraltar’s flag is the country’s coat of arms that hails from 1502, although it appears more akin to bad clipart from the late 1980s. The key in the castle doorway stands for the country’s importance as the “key” to the Mediterranean. Not only is the key corny, but it is not in proper perspective or scale.
2. Saint Pierre and Miquelon
Too much, too much, too much! Thankfully the flag of French territories Saint Pierre and Miquelon is stashed in lieu of the French flag for official occasions. The non-official design is much too busy, discordant, and includes a black and white panel that looks like bathroom wallpaper. The overall feel is too cartoon-like to give the region any prestige, especially since the ship looks like it was drawn by the same guy who drew Gibraltar’s castle (see No. 3 above) and the lions’ faces are plastered with goofy grins.
1. Isle of Man
Creepy and disjointed, the Isle of Man flag features severed limbs in a star-like formation. Known as a triskelion, the limbs are a Three Legs of Man emblem that comes from the coat-of-arms from the region’s last Norse King in 1252. Poor guy. The emblem itself dates back even further to early Celtic times, evidently before glasses were invented, as the three legs are supposed to be some type of tribute to the sun.
Ryn Gargulinski is a professional artist, performer, writer and owner of Ryndustries.