No one was more moved than she was to see it come to life, just a couple of months after the Canucks asked her to bring her South Asian influence and signature color pop to their warmup jerseys for the special night of celebration.
“It was unreal because I had drawn all of these lines on a piece of paper on my desk at home and then to see it embroidered on the jersey, like I was just caught off guard seeing it in real life,” Nagra told NHL.com. “It was incredible. Then to remember a couple seconds later that the actual players are going to be wearing them, like it’s mind-boggling.
“It’s the representation that I always wish I had when I was younger.”
Nagra, 37, grew up in a multigenerational home in the suburbs of Vancouver where the Canucks were always on and parents, siblings, cousins and grandparents bonded over their love for the game. But it wasn’t until the last few years when Vancouver began to incorporate cultural celebrations into its season that Nagra saw an opportunity to further grow the Canucks’ connection to the South Asian community.
Her journey as an artist was on a similar trajectory that eventually brought her even closer to her beloved hockey team.
A couple of years ago when the Canucks wore red and gold warmup jerseys to celebrate Chinese New Year, Nagra messaged them on Twitter to say if they ever needed a South Asian artist for Diwali, a festival of lights and major holiday that is observed mainly by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, that they should get in touch with her.
That interaction didn’t lead to anything, but Nagra’s friends continued to lobby for her on Twitter the following year, and a few weeks later, the Canucks’ brand management team contacted her about working together.
Her first project for them was in April when she designed a logo for Vaisakhi, the start of the Hindu Solar New Year and a harvest festival celebrated in Punjab. The logo, an intertwined V and C filled with colorful ornamentation, was featured digitally around Rogers Arena and on apparel. The design was so well received, the Canucks asked her to tackle a bigger project: The Diwali Night jersey.
“Each season, we look at new ways to enhance and build on what we’ve done in past years to celebrate our diverse community,” said Alex Oxenham, Senior Director of Community Engagement & Social Impact at Canucks Sports & Entertainment. “We are always looking for ways to make our community engagement nights more unique and the jersey seemed like a natural next step.
“We have had it in the plans for a while now and we couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out. The feedback has been amazing and really exciting.”
One notable piece of feedback came from actor and Vancouver native Seth Rogen, who took to Twitter to express his interest in owning one of the jerseys. Nagra updated on her Instagram that Rogan will be receiving one and he has pledged to send her something in return.
For Nagra, the use of cultural imagery in her art did not come to her right away. In 2012, after having been a graphic designer, she decided to quit her job and teach herself how to illustrate.
“Even when I first started as an illustrator, I never drew brown skin or Indian motifs or anything,” she said. “I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver, not surrounded by too many South Asians outside of my family, so I never really connected with my roots that way and it hasn’t been until maybe in the last two, three years where I’ve really started to discover who I am and feeling the pride in my community and my culture and that really comes across in the artwork that I do now. I want to empower folks, people of color who are seeing it, on any kind of scale that I can.”
The Canucks asked for two logos to get the Diwali makeover; the stick in rink and Johnny Canuck V. Nagra added numerous bright colors to both to symbolize the twinkling lights associated with the holiday. The stick in rink logo features flowers, fireworks and flames, while Johnny was replaced on the shoulder logo by a diya, an oil lamp used for Diwali celebrations.
The jerseys also had each player’s name written in Punjabi or Hindi on the back, and her designs were splashed across the ice during pregame.
Nagra appealed to the Canucks, not only for her artistic ability, but for her advocacy and community work. She is the creative director of the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective, a non-profit organization that aims to preserve and rejuvenate Vancouver’s Punjabi Market, which opened in the 1970s as a place to observe and celebrate South Asian culture but has been in decline over the years. Part of the jersey auction proceeds will be going to the PMRC. Other items featuring the design can be purchased here.
She is also dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ people become more accepted in the South Asian community and was featured in a recent documentary called, “Emergence: Out of the Shadows” that tells the stories of three South Asians revealing their sexuality to their conservative families.
“The more we can help normalize being queer, the better it will be for everyone,” said Nagra, who lives Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, with her wife Agata and their two children. “Often my way of being an activist is just by existing. By showing people queer people can get married, can have kids, can be loved by family, just being visible sometimes is a huge thing. We don’t talk about it enough in the South Asian community. I want to help break down barriers by showing we’re the same as everyone else.”
“We love Jag,” Oxenham said. “…She is a wonderful local artist and a huge Canucks fan, so it was a perfect fit. She is also passionate about community development and ending the stigma against LGBTQ+ people within the South Asian community. She has a wonderful story to share and represents so many Canucks fans.”
Nagra got to attend the game on Friday with her parents and a friend to see her work in action on a festive night that featured various tributes to and performances from South Asians for Diwali, which was on Thursday.
“My favorite thing about being an artist is making art accessible, making it representative and bringing my community and culture with me,” Nagra said. “This is so much bigger than just a picture I drew. It’s about community. It’s a community celebration to bring people together and especially in the time of COVID, I think that’s so important to come together and celebrate.”