In September this year, a career-long dream came true for Balarinji when NSW Premier Mike Baird lit up the sails of Sydney Opera House with our designs. It was one of those euphoric moments in the life of a studio, when emotion and professional pride run high. The reason for the light show lifted the event to another level again – it was our textile art for the uniforms for Australia’s brilliant Paralympians at Rio 2016. We’d helped the Australian Paralympics Committee lobby government to have the same access to those famous sails, as the Australian Olympic Team had enjoyed three weeks earlier. Kudos to the NSW Government for making the Opera House lighting happen, to the APC Board for securing the initiative, and to our local member, Treasurer Gladys Berejeklian, who passed our request to the Premier.
It was a thrill to enjoy the moment at Circular Quay with family and our team, looking across the Harbour at our work on the nation’s most desirable billboard. Even more, we could only imagine how this nod to inclusion and goodwill must have felt at that moment to the Australian Paralympic team waiting to march into Rio’s Olympic stadium. Fabulous.
The Paralympics uniform project was special because the intent to define the “look” with contemporary Indigenous design came directly from the athletes. Kudos to them – it was the first time an Australian team at any Olympics had chosen to reflect on our national identity in this way. Two years in the making, Balarinji designers and project managers worked with the Australian Paralympics Committee, and with uniform company 2XU, to interpret a thematic series of graphics that carry the meaning of ‘landmark, presence on country.’ It is about identity and purpose. Connected circles express the strength of shared intent, and the strings of dots depict dynamic energy. It reflects the diversity and values that Paralympians embody, and speaks to an inclusive Australia.
This uniform textile project, and the icing on the cake – the Opera House – illustrate what can happen when there is a process with integrity that enables the creative time to truly embed a design response in the palette, graphics, texture, scale, and tonal qualities of a collaborative result. Thank you Australian Paralympics, for a best practice opportunity.
Team Co-Captains Daniela Di Toro and Kurt Fearnley were eloquent, funny and totally inspirational at the uniform project’s launch. Catch them at a motivational event if you can, their way of being is life-changing. It was a privilege to be in the same room, let alone have our designs worn by them and their teammates. And it was no surprise that Chef de Mission Kate McLaughlin’s enthusiasm and belief underpinned a Top 5 finish in Rio, eclipsing expectations.
Reflecting a couple of months on, I wonder is it any accident that it was the Paralympians who reached out to create this breakthrough integration of Indigenous imagery, within a mainstream international campaign? In 2016 the Rio Paralympic Games attracted its largest global audience in its history. My sense is it was not an accident; that inclusivity is felt most powerfully by those who have fought exclusion; the richness of diversity is best understood by those who embody it; and creativity to think outside the square is often born from adversity. These values are well aligned between the Paralympic movement and Balarinji’s charter over the past three decades to lead the integration of Aboriginal art and culture in contemporary Australian design. Just a total privilege to have been involved.