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Curiosities

The History and Power of the Swastika

Ancient swastika symbol laid in mosaic tile
Public domain
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Detail of swastika patterns in the ancient mosaic floor at the Byzantine church ruins in Shavei- Zion, Israel (circa 360s CE to 636 CE).

The swastika. Few symbols, few words even, evoke such visceral reactions in the Western world. It stands for genocide and hatred. But it wasn’t always that way. For centuries it symbolized good fortune, success, and well-being. It held deep religious and spiritual meaning for people around the world. Graphic designer Steven Heller has long been fascinated by the swastika, and he joins us Monday to discuss its power and history. Can it ever be seen in its original context again?

Steven Heller is the co-founder and co-chair of the MFA Design/Designer as Author and Entrepreneur program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where he lectures on the history of graphic design. For 33 years he served as an art director at the New York Times. He’s the author more than 170 books on graphic design and popular culture, including his 2000 title The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? [Independent bookstores|Amazon].