Danièle Hromek, a Budawang woman of the Yuin nation, worked alongside the UTS Gallery team to run a yarning circle to accompany Void, curated by Wiradjuri woman and UTS alumnus Emily McDaniel. Danièle is a spatial designer and artist, and has developed processes to use yarning in education spaces based on knowledge passed on from her family. She describes them as “a means of conversation – but more than just a conversation, it’s a culturally comfortable, relaxed and informal passing of stories or knowledge.”
Emily says of the exhibition, “Indigenous artists are innovative, constantly changing and finding new ways to articulate old ways. The challenge that I come across so often with working with audiences in creating experiences around contemporary Aboriginal art is breaking free of the expectation of consistency.”
Yarning circles were hosted during the exhibition alongside informal, idea exchange style public programs and curator talks, as a way of engaging with Indigenous knowledge holders to explore the key messages of the exhibition.
“It’s about finding a new language to speak about these works," says Emily. "These artists are engaging with art as a visual and a metaphorical means to articulate the complexity of their experiences, so it’s about expanding on the way we talk about Indigenous art.”
To develop this conversation, Emily has worked with the UTS Gallery to create a suite of educational resources aimed at deepening engagement with Indigenous knowledge. The exhibition was developed in conjunction with Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG), and, after finishing at UTS, the exhibition will be presented nationally by Museums & Galleries of NSW.
While the UTS Gallery’s yarning circles were open to the public as well as the UTS community, it's not the first time yarning circles have been used in learning. In 2013, the Faculty of Health were the first to use yarning circles in their curriculum. Initially they were a monthly discussion for teaching staff to explore various topics relating to Indigenous health and communities. They've since extended their use to include Indigenous academics from outside the university, and conversations with students.
Lecturer Claudia Virdun says that if health outcomes are to be improved, it's crucial that non-Indigenous teachers are “culturally competent”. Studies have shown that Indigenous Australians are more likely to experience a reduced quality of life as a direct result of ill health, and that there's still work to do in closing the gap in Indigenous health outcomes. Chronic disease is experienced by the Aboriginal population at two-and-a-half times the rate of the general population, according to the 2013 CSIRO Australian Health Review.
“Ongoing colonisation and racism are vital determinants impacting the health of Indigenous people,” adds Claudia. “We’re very committed to supporting all of our staff and students to develop knowledge and skills that will enable meaningful engagement with Indigenous people.”