It’s sad how something that was designed to foster mutual understanding and good will among all people has instead become the subject of litigation and rancor. The infamous “Coexist” logo, with each letter designed to look like an icon representing a different religion or ideology, has become a staple of bumper stickers across America, joining the ranks of such classic phrases as “Baby On Board” and “How’s My Driving? Call 1-800-Eat-Shit.” The meaning of the sanctimonious sticker is obvious at a glance, but where did “Coexist” come from? The team at Vox traced it back to a Polish graphic designer named Piotr Mlodozeniec, who isn’t thrilled about what’s become of his creation. Mlodozeniec tells his story in a five-minute mini-documentary entitled “The Big Fight Over Coexist.” The logo, he explains, was originally created for a competition at a Jerusalem art museum in the year 2000. The artist’s version replaced only three letters, the C, the X, and the T. A more cluttered version, with every letter transformed into an icon, was done later by others. “The better is the enemy of the good,” Mlodozeniec laments.
Mlodozeniec’s “Coexist” poster became part of a touring exhibition, and that’s when the vultures swooped in. Some college kids in Indiana had the gall to trademark their version of the logo without consulting the original artist, and then started suing anyone else using “Coexist.” Possibly the weirdest chapter in the history of “Coexist” occurred in 2005, when U2 discovered the logo and made it a part of their “Vertigo” tour. “The Big Fight Over Coexist” contains some bizarre concert footage of Bono (Mlodozeniec calls him “Mr. Bono”) wearing a headband emblazoned with the logo and explaining it at length to the people in the audience, who probably just want to hear “With Or Without You” or “Mysterious Ways.” The artist eventually got credit on a live DVD.
Mlodozeniec disavows the redesigned “Coexist” logo and the overpriced T-shirts bearing it, but the original image still has a deep meaning for him as someone living in the EU in a nervous, mistrustful, post-9/11 world. “I didn’t know that the world will go in this direction,” the artist admits. “This ‘Coexist’ is, you know, a must.”