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Celebrating Indigenous design with Balarinji this NAIDOC Week

We’re proud to have partnered with world-leading Aboriginal-owned design and strategy studio, Balarinji, and three respected Aboriginal artists to bring more than 120 new design elements to Canva and collaboratively built 40 new templates to elevate and educate our users on the responsibilities associated with Indigenous content.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware this article contains images, names and descriptions of deceased persons. This article also contains artworks created by people who are now deceased.

At Canva, we’re continuously on a learning journey of how we can drive positive change, grow cultural appreciation(opens in a new tab or window), and be a force for good(opens in a new tab or window) as we help build a more inclusive world. That’s why we’re thrilled to have partnered with world-leading Aboriginal-owned design and strategy studio, Balarinji(opens in a new tab or window), and three renowned Aboriginal artists to bring more than 100+ new Indigenous design elements to Canva’s content library. Launching in time for NAIDOC Week(opens in a new tab or window), the biggest week of the year for celebrating the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we can’t wait to see how our community uses these assets in their designs.

The importance of growing recognition

We’re continuously on a learning journey, as we strive to find innovative new ways to grow our increasingly diverse content library – and we know in order to truly understand and celebrate Indigenous design and storytelling, we must hear these stories from Elders themselves. We’re proud to have partnered with Balarinji, an organization that has spent 40 years on a mission to contribute to an authentic national identity by deepening the understanding of Aboriginal Australia. Our partnership with Balarinji provides us with an opportunity to champion diversity while connecting artists using traditional media to digital spaces – in completely new ways.

Quote card from Ros Moriarty, Balarinji Managing Director and Creative Executive, saying To see Australian Aboriginal art, stories and design celebrated on the world's largest design platform is momentous. When we started Balarinji 40 years ago interest in Indigenous design was non-existent. Today there is a growing  global consciousness and desire to celebrate Indigenous culture. This Canva x Balarinji collection of Indigenous elements and templates allows us all to share the beauty and rich cultural narrative of three incredible Aboriginal artists.

Through its work, Balarinji partners with Aboriginal knowledge holders, artists, and other creative practitioners, particularly those with connections to Dreaming (the spiritual dimension of Aboriginal knowing), to increase recognition of Aboriginal culture, design and art. Not only does this work bring Aboriginal stories into the community and mainstream, it also grows artist recognition and helps close the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous creators.

Quote card from Johnny Bridges, Ngunnawal man & Balarinji Indigenous Creative Lead, saying Australian Aboriginal imagery, story, philosophy, intellectual framing, and language are incredible sources of inspiration, representing both an opportunity and responsibility. This collection has been created with careful consideration to ensure the cultural integrity of the artists' work while also providing a rich, versatile and beautiful collection of design elements that celebrate the continuing stories of the world's longest surviving culture.

In line with this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, ‘For the Elders’, Balarinji has worked collaboratively alongside incredible Aboriginal Elders and artists Maureen Hudson Nampijinpa, Gordon Lansden Milyindirri, and Isaiah Nagurrgurrba to develop 120 elements(opens in a new tab or window) to the Canva Pro content library, with royalties going directly back to the artists. We’ve also created 40 new templates(opens in a new tab or window) featuring Balarinji elements across a variety of products including posters and social media tiles to empower our community to use meaningful Indigenous designs when developing their celebration materials. All of these elements are available for unlimited use for our Canva Pro users and free for our Canva for Education(opens in a new tab or window) and Canva for Nonprofits(opens in a new tab or window) communities.

Red tile to represent Aboriginal artist Maureen Nampijinpa and some of her renowned artworks.

Artist profile: Maureen Hudson Nampijinpa

Growing up in Yuelamu (Mt Allan), 290 km north west of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, meant life began the traditional way, in the bush, for Maureen Hudson Nampijinpa. Her lived experiences of hunting for bush tukka and traditional ceremony, as well as hearing her parents' sacred stories, became inspiration for her canvas art works, which she’s been painting since the 1980s. A renowned Walpiri artist, Maureen depicts her father’s stories of Fire Dreaming, Napa (Water Dreaming), and Lightning Dreaming, along with her mother's Dreaming stories and women’s ceremonies for storytelling to her children and grandchildren. These themes are reflected in her elements developed for Canva that deeply celebrate Walpiri Country, ceremony and Dreaming.

Blue tile to represent Aboriginal artist Gordon Lansden Milyindirri and some of his renowned artworks.

Milyindirri's family has given permission for his photograph, name and art to be shared.

Artist profile: Gordon Lansden Milyindirri

Love of Country runs deep in artist Gordon Landsen Milyindirri’s work, with the Gudanji man taking inspiration from his billabong story, the rough hills at the lost city (Nayawooda), the bush Country (Mulloogera), and the desert Country around the Borroloola region in the Gulf of Carpentaria. These are the stories he heard from his great grandfather, and they’re stories, ceremony songs, and dances that Gordon taught to the children at Yungurie outstation. These stories have now been reflected through his elements in the Canva library.

Brown tile to represent Aboriginal artist Isaiah Nagurrgurrba and some of his renowned artworks.

Isaiah’s family has given permission for his name and art to be shared, but in line with cultural protocol, his photograph cannot be shown.

Artist profile: Isaiah Nagurrgurrba

A Marlkawo artist and screen printer who was a founding member of Injalak Arts and Crafts in Oenpelli, a remote community in western Arnhem Land, Isaiah sought inspiration for his paintings from djang, meaning stories, events, and places of deep importance. For Isaiah, painting the world around him was of utmost importance – because to him, to paint your Country is to highlight where you come from. This, along with stories he heard from Elders in his camp, are what shone through in his works and in the elements of his art we’ve added to Canva’s content library.

Designing with cultural sensitivity

We know these inspiring artworks will be well-loved by our community, and with opportunity comes responsibility. Indigenous artworks and stories have many sacred meanings and should only be shared in certain contexts, which is why the collaborative nature of the work between designers and Balarinji is so important. There’s responsibility in bringing Aboriginal people who are local to Place to the center of the co-design process – by representing the stories, meanings and philosophies correctly, the outcomes are immeasurably richer for everyone.

In the spirit of making complex things simple, with each new Balarinji artist template you’ll be provided with guidelines and design principles on usage, to help you celebrate Indigenous culture in an appropriate and respectful way. While we’re mindful not to ingest any culturally sensitive iconography and these elements are available to anyone who wishes to use them, there are still some guidelines in place for the best way to apply them.

Some general principles to be aware of include:

  • Focus on one artwork selection per design, do not mix artists and artworks.
  • Learn the storytelling behind the artwork and how that can support messaging and execution.
  • Maintain original element colouration for integrity purposes, however you can adjust the color of text, backgrounds and textures. When considering color we suggest Country-inspired earthy colors.
  • Do not stretch, overlap, morph or apply filters to motifs.
  • Generally you can rotate and crop motifs, but refrain from flipping or turning elements upside down.

Share in the celebrations

We can’t wait for our global community to come together through design to celebrate Indigenous culture, heritage and stories. This year, NAIDOC Week runs from Sunday 2 July – Sunday 9 July 2023, so unlock your creativity with our new Indigenous elements and templates(opens in a new tab or window) today.

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