This semester focuses on developing skills in planning units of work and as a focus for our practical exercises we will use the amazing Yiwarra Kuju exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. You will journey into the gorgeous art and country of the traditional owners of the western desert. My Moodle site http://learnonline.canberra.edu.au/course/view.php?id=4501
The problem: how to teach my students about Aboriginal art?
Sounds like a simple problem. Aboriginal art is everywhere in Canberra, great collections and many texts written on the subject.
But, my students were afraid of Aboriginal art. For them it inhabited a fraught domain of taboos about who could speak about the art and most importantly who could make the art. They believed only Aboriginal people could teach about Aboriginal art. They were scared of making a cultural mistake and being seen to be ‘whitefellas’ teaching about ‘blackfella business’.
Along comes Yiwarra Kuju – a gift to me, in my teaching, from the Western Desert. An exhibition by people of the western desert about their history of the Canning Stockroute, a history about place, about invasion about history told using Aboriginal time and place – so ‘historical’ time is part of current time and place is points in the landscape through which ancestors, spirits and people now all wander concurrently.
The exhibition drew people into a meandering trip along the waterhole soaks of the western desert from Kalgoorlie to the Kimberley, past art centres and communities, through country that owns the artists who painted the images that told their histories/stories. The paintings formed the core of the exhibition, to explain to other people their painter’s unique understanding of their country and its invasion by Canning to create the stockroute that forever changed their landscape.
The exhibition was the perfect place to lead my students into inquiry based learning with me as their guide. But I did not need to do that alone, the museum’s program and curators and the exhibition’s creators Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal all had an ongoing and daily involvement at the Museum that allowed me to work with a team to develop my students in their understanding of the artworks, the people, their stories and their country.
Better still, I could begin my own inquiry with Museums Australia and the NMA’s own seminars held in conjunction with the exhibition. I attended a teacher PD that gave me a very good grounding in the inception and development of the whole project. And, a marvellous online education kit was available for me to use and to pass on to my students http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/yiwarra_kuju/education_resources/ .
Then, I was able to send my students along the Museum’s Australia seminar on the exhibition and particularly the development of its amazing interactive ICT component. A table with images, maps, documentary clips and e-‘sand’ in which visitors could draw and search for desert creatures and e-canvases on which visitors could paint.
We wanna tell you fellas 'bout things been happening in the past that hasn't been recorded, what old people had in their head. No pencil and paper. The white man history has been told and it's today in the book. But our history is not there properly. We've got to tell 'em through our paintings. Clifford Brooks, Wiluna, 2007
(R) Mayapu Elsie Thomas paints Kurrkumalu (photo Tim Acker)
‘ Listening to the old people's story from the past. Good ones, sad ones. Now it's up to us to tell them to our future generations.’ Putuparri Tom Lawford, Fitzroy Crossing, 2007
‘ When kartiya (non-Aboriginal people) come along to this exhibition, and read this book [the exhibition catalogue], we hope they learn the history of the Canning Stock Route from the paintings and stories of Aboriginal people, what the history is really about. People will find out about how Canning been working, and how people are still connected to the land and still pass down the story.
It used to be blackfella Country before they built the wells. Today it's a kartiya highway. Before it used to be Aboriginal people's land, our Jukurrpa (Dreaming), waterholes, jumu (soakwaters) and jila (springs). Blackfellas used to walk around — foot-walk — not with a camel. When they saw camels and horses they'd get frightened and run away. Martu people got shot in that Country, and at Kulyayi (Well 42) Wangkajunga people got killed.
Canning made a mess of the wells and Dreaming tracks and sacred sites and law sites. He used blackfellas to get where he wanted to go, to make his mark. So it's about kartiya coming and making that line of wells.
But in another way, all those wells opened up our Country for people to travel back to Country with their kids. Because if you didn't do that the Country would be lost. Now it's easier to get to Country. We've got our own story there, two ways.
We're all family. All the stories are about how all the families got scattered across the Western Desert. And at the nine art centres, we're all related. From Wiluna and Kiwirrkurra and Balgo, Mulan, and Martu Country. From Nyarna (Lake Stretch) right down to Wiluna. Our ancestors walked that land. The Canning Stock Route forced all the people to all different places.
But people still talk about their Country and call the names, and we talk about how all the art centres are going to tell their stories. Everybody has that same story.
Some stories can be told, some stories can't be told, from the Dreamtime. There are too many stories. All these stories, all told by our old people.’
Ngarralja Tommy May, Mangkaja artist and senior cultural adviser, Putuparri Tom Lawford, Senior translator and cultural adviser, Murungkurr Terry Murray, Co-curator. Fitzroy Crossing, March, 2010
My students began by being introduced to my vision for all visual arts teachers in their endeavours to teach about Aboriginal art. My vision is that they will not see it as taboo or scary if not accompanied all the way by an Aboriginal guide.
Art is common to us all and art practise across all human cultures shares techniques, purpose and cultural value.
My students discovered that they could use the techniques of Aboriginal art and engage with intention of that art to create works from their own cultural domains.
So, they could coil baskets, paint, draw, create in metal and other media and develop their own ‘language’ influenced by the ‘language’ of the Aboriginal artists they encountered in Yiwarra Kuju. They could tell their own histories of place and identity using the same language, media and forms that they observed in the exhibition. They did not need to ‘copy’ the works but they observed and adapted the iconography and techniques and applied these to their own works.
I also began the semester by showing them my coiled baskets. Same techniques and similar materials to those of the Western Desert women but telling my own history and relationships with the environment.
My students lost their fear of engaging with Aboriginal art to make their own art and most importantly to devise lessons for their future students through actively being captivated by the exhibition. The works in the exhibition became familiar and friendly and human, easy to relate to as people and as artists. They found the common threads as the ‘uncommon’ was unpacked.
The finale – a small exhibition of my student’s works
I have placed a small exhibtion of your works on paper in the corridor near my office. I would like to leave it up for a couple of weeks and am happy for you to collect your work early/mid December if you would like to retrieve it. This is the text I used in the explanation/statement accompanying the exhibition. Cheers and thanks for a great year, to those of you who took the whole journey and a great semester to those of you who joined in sem 2, Jaky
Inspired by Yiwarra Kuju: Works on paper produced by students in Visual Arts STS 2
(unit 6728 Secondary Education Graduate Diploma)
The artworks temporarily on exhibition in this corridor were produced as collaborative works by students in the Visual Arts Secondary Teaching Subject in response to the ‘Yiwarra Kuju: Canning Stockroute’ exhibition of Western Desert Art currently at the National Museum of Australia (see poster for details).
The works were created by the students as part of the micro-teaching episodes each student prepared for assessment and in which they engaged the whole class and me as the teacher. Yiwarra Kuju is about place, country, identity and history and is the telling of stories and human relationships between people, their country and their ancestors (human and spirit). Inspired by this exploration of place through visual media the students created collaborative maps of the university (see the work in black ink on brown paper), maps of country and special places (see the coloured painted work on brown paper and the primed canvas black background worked over with coloured paint) and male and female responses to country and place (see the large white sheets with black ink marks) – mens’ and womens’ ‘business’. All the works were produced collaboratively and created with students working on the floor with a variety of brushes, sticks, straws and other implements to work ink and paint.
The Yiwarra Kuju exhibition provided the basis for our teaching and learning this semester to encourage the students to explore and become familiar with Aboriginal art and how to use this knowledge in teaching their students on practicum and in their future lives as secondary school teachers. We also explored the techniques of coiled basketry, a technique perfected by women of the Western Desert. Again students used this technique on practicum with great results – their own students learning and adapting coiling as a medium for expressing themselves in 3 dimensional ‘soft’ sculptural pieces.
I hope you enjoy our small exhibition! Jaky Troy (5B63) Assistant Professor in Education