Although the Traditional Custodians of the land that we work and learn on are regarded as one of the first scientists, not only in Australia but in the world, their narratives are often overlooked and excluded whilst scientific organisations/researchers explore topics pertaining to the Land, Sea and Sky Country. Throughout our iGEM journey, we have prioritised bolstering the voices of this community by fusing elements of their intrinsically diverse culture with our project, all whilst having a Human Practices and Science Communication spin on it.
For Human Practices, it was important to us to maintain bilateral conversations with Indigenous individuals from the genesis of our project and honour their longstanding legacy in Australia. The conversations that were fostered enlightened us on their view (and our new view) of Country as a biocultural landscape over a biophysical one. This sentiment is conveyed by Ambelin Kwaymullina, “Country is filled with relations speaking language and following Law, no matter whether the shape of that relation is human, rock, crow, wattle. Country is loved, needed, and cared for, and country loves, needs, and cares for her peoples in turn. Country is family, culture, identity. Country is self.” (Kwaymullina, 2005).
For non-Indigenous Australians and international audiences, there is often an emotional detachment to the Great Barrier Reef, mainly attributed to the lack of understanding as to why this landmark is sacred to the Traditional Owner communities and why it is important to preserve this region teemed with biodiversity. Our aim was to convey the rationale behind these afore-mentioned questions through a medium that transcends all boundaries - a virtual art exhibition. Implementing them into the discussion behind our environmental issues.
The aim was to illustrate to the international audience the connection local residents of Australia have with the ocean ecosystems. We wanted to depict this connection and build within our audiences an awe, admiration and gratitude, compassion for the coral reef systems. Furthermore, we wished to implement the overlooked Indigenous Owners of the land, to bring a voice to their stories. We hope by evoking an emotional response to environmental issues such as sea warming from climate change we will garner the help and understanding from various stakeholders; facilitating the conversation between the Indigenous Owners that was missing before. And from the feedback we gathered we undeniably did.
We have integrated artworks as a method to allow local artists to depict what the coral reef ecosystems mean to them. Stories of their upbringing and how their quality of life revolves around these reefs, along with their concerns of its loss, have also been portrayed alongside them. This unique medium of work enables an inclusion of the cultural perspective to be understood, allowing the integration of an aspect that is often forgotten when discussing scientific issues.
Through this exhibition, we facilitated the conversation about this dire issue between different groups of individuals, enabling the public to be both the host and the audience. Consequently, by doing so, it was made evident that like ourselves, the general public was not fully aware of just how important the ecosystem was culturally.
From our surveys, the impact was undeniable. Individuals had shown us that initially, they had an average ⅖ understanding of the cultural perspective and a ⅘ after they had explored our exhibition, on average. Nearly 50% of the responses said they felt a 5/5 strong impact from the exhibition. Statements given as feedback that supported our project goals and many other conservation groups really inspired our team to push harder throughout the year to make the world a better place.
"The quoted experiences accompanying some of the artworks because it provided a glimpse into their lives experience of the reef and culture”
View the Virtual Exhibition
Kwaymullina, A 2005, 'Seeing the Light: Aboriginal Law, Learning and Sustainable Living in Country', Indigenous Law Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 11, pp. 12-15.