Guan Wei painting of woman on beach

MAG&M Collection Stories:

itsy bitsy yellow polka dot bikini! An invention of fabric rationing necessity in the 1940s.


The bikini is one of the most talked about garments of the mid-twentieth century.

While two-piece bathing suits were being worn by women as early as the 1930s, the modern bikini is dated to 5 July 1946 when French engineer Louis RĂ©ard launched the design. He named the swimsuit after the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands where the first public test of a nuclear bomb had taken place only four days before. Considered risque at the time, the skimpy design was also partly due to the rationing of fabric after World War II.

MAG&M is fortunate to hold many bikini related items in its collection, including a yellow polka dot bikini and Paula Stafford designed two piece from the 1960s, as well as memorabilia like the ‘Greetings from Manly’ souvenir glass. Pam Debenham’s 1984 poster ‘No Nukes in the Pacific’ also points to the ongoing social and political activism surrounding nuclear testing, the site which nods back to the origins of the bikini name.

Artist Guan Wei has depicted a contemporary interpretation of the bikini and beach life. Born 1957 in Beijing, Guan Wei is from the generation of artists who left China in the wake of the Tiananmen Square events of 1989. Now based in Australia, he is a multidisciplinary artist who is a keen observer of culture and society. His beach paintings merge eastern and western philosophies and symbols, representing the Australian lifestyle in a fresh and humorous way. ‘Water view #13’ is no different.



1.            Yellow polka dot bikini, 1960s. Gift of David Jones Collection 1993 (M0911)

2.            Guan Wei (b.1957), Water view #13, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50cm. Purchased 2011 (A1226)

3.            Pam Debenham (b.1955), No nukes in the Pacific, 1984, screenprinted poster, 88 x 62cm. Purchased 2008 (A1074)

4.            Paula Stafford designed reversible two piece swimsuit, 1960s (M2348)

5.            Chuck Bradley (b.1959), Beer glass (Nostalgica series), 2013, photograph depicting MAG&M museum objects

6.            Chuck Bradley (b.1959), Mardi Gras (Nostalgica series), 2013, photograph depicting MAG&M museum objects