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Design as a vehicle for reconciliation: Balarinji completes latest Qantas design

The Indigenous design and strategy agency is launching its latest aircraft design with Qantas, the sixth iteration of a longstanding partnership.

Design as a vehicle for reconciliation: Balarinji completes latest Qantas design

The official launch of Balarinji’s new aircraft design for Qantas takes place place at Ayers Rock Airport, Yulara on February 22, 2024. Part of the Flying Art Series, this latest design features the artwork of senior Pitjantjatjara artist, Maringka Baker. Indeed, the aircraft itself is named after the artwork: Minyma Kutjara Tjukurpa – The Two Sisters Creation Story.

With over 20,000 dots in the painting – and each one unique – Balarinji has had quite the task in realising the design for the aircraft. The Sydney-based design firm, previous winners at the INDE.Awards, have a relationship with Qantas stretching back the full length of its 40-year history, with Wunala Dreaming appearing as the first aircraft design in 1994.

Balarinji - New aircraft design for Qantas

“[Maringka Baker] has that gravitas in the Australian painting landscape,” says Balarinji Co-Founder and Managing Director, Ros Moriarty. “She’s not only well regarded but has very strong and traditional connections to the stories she tells, and she has family around her who are knowledge-holders and have the authority to work on how this is presented to Qantas.”

Minyma Kutjara Tjukurpa tells the Dreaming story of two sisters who traverse remote Australia together, covering vast distances to find their way home. Transferring the painting into a work of fuselage design involves “weeks and weeks of fine deconstruction with lots of very close-up detail,” says Indigenous Creative Lead, Johnny Bridges. The whole process for Balarinji – including sourcing artworks, adapting the painting for the aircraft and overseeing its realisation – took around two years.

Related: Q&A with Balarinji

In order to achieve the finished result, the designers at Balarinji are effectively working across multiple media, scales and forms. A painting is not simply overlaid onto a fuselage but must be painstakingly reconfigured for its new three-dimensional form. “We had to keep reminding ourselves of the scale of a single dot,” notes Bridges. Around 100 painters were involved in completing the livery in Canada, which is the most complex that Airbus has ever completed for this aircraft type.

Bridges also draws attention to the colours in the artwork: “When I looked at it for the first time I just thought to myself, this really is coming from a master of tone – especially when you are dealing with colours of Country.”

Tones of blue and green dominate the new work, perhaps drawing attention to the sustainability principles underpinning any genuine engagement with Country. As stewards of the land for millennia, Indigenous ways of creating and designing don’t produce specific expressions of sustainability so much as they are simply sustainable by definition.

“When John [Moriarty] and I established the studio 40 years ago, our idea was to get Australians thinking differently about how Australia defines itself,” says Ros Moriarty, emphasising how design in this sphere is very much about identity. “[The first Qantas collaboration] was an astonishing anomaly on the Australian design landscape,” she adds.

Balarinji - New aircraft design for Qantas

When it comes to issues of reconciliation and decolonisation, then, what role and agency can design have? Clearly, these issues are bigger than design, but the Balarinji team argues that we underestimate the power of design. “Designers can’t do it alone,” notes Moriarty, before explaining how the sheer visibility of design makes it impactful in people’s lives and identities.

“I think designers are very forward-looking and we, as a cohort, are committed to using design for good,” adds Moriarty.

Bridges concludes by recalling a quote that has influenced his work: “Design is a fantastic vehicle for reconciliation.”


Qantas Flying Art Series

Balarinji - New aircraft design for Qantas
Balarinji - New aircraft design for Qantas

More Indigenous art: Tony Albert’s dual 2024 exhibitions.

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