Interviews, Surf cultureRipples In The Water 

-Words by Kim Feldmann, images by Courtesy of Jasmine Craciun & film by mySURF tv

Jasmine Craciun on Designing The Irukandjis’ Visual Identity

In the abstract of his 2007 paper,Aboriginal surfing: reinstating culture and country, Dr Colleen McGloin, of the University of Wollongong, states that “Mainstream surfing in Australia is a discursive cultural practice, institutionally sanctioned as integral to national identity. Surfing represents the nation through a mode of white heterosexual orientation that is encoded into its practices and its texts. [It] represents an historical transformation in the national psyche from the bush, inaugurated by the nation’s literary canon, to the beach, which has become the modern site of the nation’s identity.” And whilst this conception still rings true for Australia – as well as other so-called surf nations – initiatives such as the naming and visual identity of The Irukandjis Australian Olympic surfing team show that steps are being taken to acknowledge and embrace the fact that the line-up is as heterogeneous as the waves that roll over it.

Surf Simply caught up with Jasmine Miikika Craciun, an Aboriginal Graphic Designer and Visual Artist from Newcastle, NSW – the hand, head, and heart behind the design.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

On ancestral roots and a childhood bond with the ocean and surfing…

Water in general is a huge part of who I am. As an Aboriginal person, my roots lie with the Barkindji and Malyangapa people of far western NSW, so traditionally I’m considered a river person. However, I’ve grown up in the little surf city of Newcastle, so naturally, I have a huge love for the ocean.

The ocean for me is very much associated with my Dad. While I definitely can’t claim to be a surfer, the ocean has always been a big part of my growing up. Dad would take me out on the foamie and get me on the whitewash, and when I was even smaller I’d be on his shoulders yelling out to him to go further into the water and the waves. That’s a really strong memory for me. He always laughs about how I’d have him underwater just so I could be out with the huge waves as a little one. The ocean brings really fond memories all throughout my life growing up by the sea, but it all started with Dad.

On delving into identity and ancestry through art…

I think a huge part of my work is the idea of identity and place. I’m really proud and fascinated with my roots and my family history on both sides, and I spend a lot of time exploring this through any medium I can. My Mum and Nan grew up in the desert region of NSW, literally on the riverbank in tin huts, while my dad grew up by the sea in Newcastle with his immigrant parents from Romania and Austria. The remarkable lives and stories that all of my grandparents lived are so unique. I try to honour that through the work and stories I tell through art and design.

No matter what medium I take on, it will always start with a sketch; I’d say that’s the approach that ties them all together. Often nonsensical to others, I’ll scribble and write about my goals and sketch out what I’m imagining so I don’t lose that idea when it comes to me. Sometimes these sketches make it into the final work itself – kind of like the Irukandjis art which began as an ink sketch on a small scrap of art paper.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

On designing the visual identity for the Australian Olympic surf team…

I’d been working on a campaign with Cox Inall Ridgeway, an Aboriginal consulting agency in Sydney, when BWM Dentsu, a creative agency that shares their office space, reached out to me to create a mural for them. During the zoom call to discuss the mural, they mentioned at the end of the call if I’d be keen to work with them on the design of the Irukandjis identity. They were so relaxed about asking me, like it wasn’t for our Olympic team. [Laughs].

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

The Irukandji name was gifted to the team by the Yirrganydji people of far North Queensland which to me was incredibly special. It was a beautifully collaborative process that I was really proud to be a part of. At the launch, I was able to meet some of the Singleton family who were instrumental in the naming of the team, as well as most of our Olympic team who were so stoked to be representing our work on the world stage. It just brought the whole process together.

I was encouraged by BWM to try some really experimental styles which pushed me out of my comfort zone and I think challenged me in a really positive way. The early designs were super different from the one we eventually landed on – which was actually one of my very early ink sketches! Throughout the early process, I was trying to create a contemporary take on 80’s surf design with fluoro colour and experimental shapes and layers. But I think it may have become a bit too experimental. [Laughs].

My main goal was to represent the ocean through simple shapes and sketches. The one that made it to the final design aimed to depict the fluidity and movement of a wave as you watch it barrel over you from below – the ripples in the water and the shapes and animals of the rockpools. It was an embodiment of some of my favourite things about the sea, and hopefully things other people will be able to resonate with as well.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

On being a female surfer with Aboriginal roots in Australia…

I think one of the main challenges is always feeling like you need to prove yourself to the wider Australian community. While we are going through positive change, Australia as a country has a long way to go in terms of anti-racism and respect for other cultures, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Australia is very good at looking abroad and saying “Thank god we’re not like them,” when in fact we face the same issues. I also have to acknowledge that the issues I face are not the same as some of my family in regional communities. In so many ways I’m incredibly lucky, so even I have to constantly check myself and always work to make the world more accessible to our young ones who want to do what I do. In order to have real positive change, we must first always aim to look inwards at how we can make our communities and our society better for those who don’t have it as easy as ourselves.

On the increasing inclusiveness of the local surf scene in Newcastle…

I think the inclusiveness I can speak to is particularly in regards to women surfers and feeling more comfortable to try and be a part of that world. I remember when I was young, when dad would take me out to teach me, there was always kind of a fear for me, of being seen trying to learn and being embarrassed that I was learning? Such a silly thing to be embarrassed about. I don’t know if it’s just me growing up and becoming more mature but when my partner would take me out to have a paddle there’s no shame in that for me any more. I’m wobbly and I’m learning but it doesn’t matter. Seeing sooo many female surfers around Newcastle now just makes me really excited for the way things are shifting. Obviously, female surfers have always been there but I think the stigma is going away – I wish I got to see more girls out on the waves when I was young but I’m excited to know so many young girls are seeing it today. That includes our women at the Olympics.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

On the role of surfers in promoting a more inclusive and respectful society in Australia…

I think it’s already happening! We have amazing Aboriginal surfers like Otis Carey, who is also an incredible artist, constantly representing us in a beautiful way and inspiring our young ones. We have Tyler Wright, who took a knee to honour the 439 Indigenous people who lost their lives in custody here in Australia. We have our current Olympic team wanting to honour Aboriginal culture with their new team name and identity. I think there’s a steady change happening with a lot of actions taken by a lot of people, and not just in the surfing world either. Our country is rich with culture and talent, and Indigenous people offer so much to the world of sport. To see Indigenous people start to be recognised and displayed is special for the entire nation.

On how art can impact Australian surf culture in the future…

The Irukandjis work has been one of my first jobs for the Surfing community, and I would love to do more. But in general, I hope my work can have an effect not only in surf culture but whoever is touched by it. A lot of my process revolves around collaboration with community, so I hope that this is a factor in creating inclusive spaces by including as many people as I can along the way.


The author would like to thank Jasmine for her assistance with the article. To check more of her artworks, visit her website or follow her on Instagram.