Art is key for connection and reconciliation

28 September 2016

The university classroom is quiet and the students’ heads are bowed as they doodle on white cardboard pieces.

The drawings vary from graphic designs to colourful spirals and swirls like a rollercoaster.

Some students are creating Indigenous artworks that tell a story.

Powerful words like togetherness, unity and forgiveness are scrawled on the back of the cards.

This is a Southern Cross University class, but it isn’t an art class.

This is the basis of Wiradjuri man Professor Norm Sheehan’s research.

“My culture means a lot to me, and I wanted to do something to promote reconciliation,” he said.

This led him to start a research project that involved getting SCU students and staff members to create their own mini-artworks, with the goal of joining them together in a larger piece.

Prof. Sheehan is the director of SCU’s Gnibi College of Indigenous Australians and he hopes his research project will help create reconciliation within the university. 

Participants draw on specially-designed white cardboard rectangles, each with four markings to guide the artist.

The designs must join onto the four marks so that no matter what the designs look like, they connect together.

Examples of some of the cards artists have written as part of Prof. Sheehan's research project

For "another layer of meaning" participants write one word on the back of the cards, Prof. Sheehan said.

These words also join together in a bigger artwork, and will serve as research into what words represent reconciliation and connection.

Some popular words are beginning, togetherness and trust.

Examples of some of the words artists have written as part of Prof. Sheehan's research project
Prof. Sheehan said some of the artworks have been “outstanding” and that participants get deeply involved in the activity.

“They [the participants] love it. It gives them the chance to relax and take some time to reflect on how they think about reconciliation.”

Inspiration for the research project came from a Queensland initiative of 12 Indigenous communities which got together to produce artwork.

Prof. Sheehan taught visualisation when he worked at the University of Queensland and thought it was only natural to use artwork for his research project.

“I use this process to get a third perspective of connecting imagery,” he said.

“Visual objects are personal. If you create something personal, you have an attachment to it.”

His workshop participants have produced over 340 cards, and Prof. Sheehan aims to complete his research with 1000 cards.

The research project will continue for another two years before completion.

He plans to display the artworks at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus library.