What do artists bring to research?


 It’s conference season as we speed toward the end of the year. The Australian Academy of the Humanities hosted their 51st Symposium At the Crossroad? Australia’s Cultural Future. The aim was to facilitate conversations about the transformations needed to secure Australia’s cultural and creative future. It brought researchers, practitioners, creators and policy makers together to consider how innovative cultural policy settings and creative practice could together underpin a path to recovery, for people and communities.

Photo of my screen as we began our webinar

It was such a buzz to be on a panel as part of a satellite session, hosted by The Australia Council for the Arts, exploring the intersections between creative practice, research, industry and government. With me were Pat Grant (UTS): writer, illustrator and author of two graphic novels; Gabriel Clark (UTS): designer, photographer and producer of multimedia storytelling events and Alon Ilsar: drummer, composer, instrument designer and researcher. Our brief was to reflect on the skills artists bring to a research project and to consider the ways in which artists’ predisposition to enquiry, creative thinking, and their ability to communicate ideas could be more intimately involved in research. The panel was beautifully organised and facilitated by Christen Cornell.

Christen asked us to consider questions including: What might be the outcomes of allowing artists to creatively analyse data? How might artists’ creative communication of findings open onto new audiences, such as those who are unlikely or unable to read traditional research reports?

These questions have relevance for access and inclusion, with alternative research outputs for example audio-based (see Alon’s work), or visual representation (Pat and Gabe’s work). They also raise further questions about opportunities for artists interested in working in cross-sectoral industry settings.

Conversations on Tangata Whenua and Asian solidarity

I moved to Australia seven years ago from Aotearoa New Zealand. I’m pleased that old friends remember me despite the Tasman sea (Te Tai-o-Rēhua) between us (a so called “marginal sea” of the Pacific Ocean (Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa). I was chuffed to accept the invitation from Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga to be on a panel: Conversations on Tangata Whenua and Asian solidarity with Tze Ming Mok, Aaryn Hulme-Niuapu, Sue Gee, Arama Rata, me and Sina Brown-Davis.

This session will be an exploration of the experiences of tangata whenua and Asian activists who are working toward decolonisation and how we can strengthen cross-cultural solidarity against colonialism and racism. We will reflect on learnings of the past and imagine ways that we can move forward together to a just future.

As part of a phenomenal four day program in the fifth Social Movements, Resistance, and Social Change Conference: Activating Collectivity: Aroha and Power hosted online and in Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington).

It engages with the ongoing question of how we honour Indigenous knowledges, learn from the spirit and tikanga animating struggles, and work in genuine togetherness for the deep structural change that our planet and people urgently need. This year’s theme also provides space for responding to social issues and movements as they continue to unfold around us. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, ‘Activating Collectivity: Aroha and Power’ also engages with questions of how we situate ourselves as allies and accomplices, confront racism within and between our communities, and expand our networks and solidarities. Our theme asks how our imaginings of collectivity, aroha, and power have been activated and constrained, and how we can extend them as a basis for liberation.

Photo taken at march on Queen St, Auckland, 2012.

One of the questions we engaged in as a panel was about our entry point into this kaupapa of Tangata Whenua and Asian solidarity. This took me down memory lane. It began with helping fund raise for the Hoani Waititi Marae in the late seventies when my family moved to West Auckland from Nairobi, Kenya.

Photo of the Maori cookbook I sold to help fundraise for an urban marae.

Most of my experiences with tangata whenua were through Pākehā institutions. In the eighties when I was doing my nursing education at AUT, I joined a trip to the Ureweras and enjoyed regular noho marae at Hato Petera school for boys, across the road from the Akoranga campus. However, most of my experiences didn’t really help me make sense of my place in the colonial sandwich (Avtar Brah). It’s only when I started reading Xicana feminism like This Bridge called my back, Black feminists like Audre Lorde and bell hooks, that I started developing a vocabulary for my own experiences. Thank goodness for theory. In 2004 I set up the Aotearoa Ethnic Network email list and then a journal with the brilliant artistic and design talents of Andy Williamson as a way of problematising the unique to New Zealand term to describe people who are neither Maori, Pākehā or Tangata Pasifika. As Tze Ming quipped in the webinar “before we had a group for ethnics”. From this network, we also developed a journal and you can see some of the covers from the issues below. I’m going to revamp my website soon so will share the archive and contents in full.

Back in the day (2012) Philipa K Smith used a case study from AEN in her PhD and a subsequent publication: New Zealanders on the Net: Discourses of National Identities in Cyberspace. Smith used a discourse-historical approach of critical discourse analysis, emphasising the role of power and ideology in the construction of identities.

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I also helped develop the Tangata Tiriti interactive workbook in 2006 which has accurate information about the Treaty of Waitangi in plain English for migrants. I’ve also written an essay for Tangatawhenua.com for the Are we there yet? series, a prelude to the election in November 2011, with a focus on the ‘wish list’ of Generation Xers; their hopes, dreams, aspirations and vision for New Zealand society. I wrote:

I began this piece by talking about my family’s welcome to New Zealand through consumer capitalism at Foodtown. On reflection, the supermarket is an apt metaphor for migration, both for the visibility and promise of its products and for the invisibility of its processes. Neoliberal narratives of individualism and ‘choice’ render invisible both the dispossession of the local and Indigenous and the economic imbalance necessary for the movement of goods and people to the West in order for capitalism to flourish. Yet if these two aspects of migration were made visible, in the same way that more ethical consumptive practices are becoming a feature of contemporary life then other kinds of relationships might be made possible. In the case of ethnic communities, direct negotiation with Maori for a space where Indigenous Maori claims for tino rangatiratanga, sovereignty and authority are supported while the mana of newcomers to Aotearoa is upheld hold promise.

Thanks friends Menghzu Fu and Kirsty the chance to do some walking down memory lane and also to consider what kind of future I might be able to contribute to both in Aotearoa where my family still live and here on the unceded lands of the people of the Kulin Nation.

Women of Colour ‘in’ academia: Political creativity and (im)possibilities of solidarity

This week has been a biggie with lots of zoom presentations, all of which were marvellous. The fabulous and thoughtful Lutfiye Ali gathered Shakira Hussein, Denise Chapman, Torika Bolatagici, Jesica S. Fernández and I together to talk solidarities in academia.


Expressions of embodied political creativity and radical being of and for solidarities of resistance have been long described by African American, Global South, decolonial, Indigenous and other women of colour scholar activists (e.g., Hill Collins, 2002; hooks, 2000; Grande, 2000; Lorde, 1984; Lugones, 1987; Moraga, 1983; Smith, 1999; Wynter, 2003;). Gloria Anzaldua (1990) writes:

A woman-of-color who writes poetry or paints or dances or makes movies knows there is no escape from race or gender when she is writing or painting. She can’t take of her color and sex and leave them at the door of her study or studio. Nor can she leave behind her history. Art is about identity, among other things, and her creativity is political.

As Women of Colour, this way of thinking about identity and knowledge inspires us to ask how we see our own positions in the academy. How do (neo)liberal institutions receive the voices and knowledges of racialized women? How do we co-create safe and enabling spaces for embodied knowledge production that is inherently political? What are ways in which we resist, disrupt, and transform intersecting vectors of inequality? Through these conversations, we will not only name heteropatriarchial and institutionalized racism through which the women of Colour and their labour are tokenised, appropriated, co-opted and silenced in academia, we will also identify the moments for forging and fostering solidarities of resistance, belonging and social change. We seek new spaces of knowledge production that are agentic, productive, disruptive while driving change for and with the communities through which we each engage our work. This discussion panel offers a way to think about ‘political creativity’ and generative possibilities for forging solidarities of resistance and belonging.

Screenshot of the panellists on a computer screen.
The panellists: Screenshot by Torika Bolatagici.

2020 International Conference of Community Psychology at Victoria University had as its theme celebrating and interrogating “how solidarities are fostered and sustained within community contexts, across borders and boundaries, digital and non-digital spaces, and through process of knowledge production. Importantly the conference aimed to provide a critical platform for ideas and work emerging from coalitions with practitioners, artists, educators, activists, and diverse communities.

On the limits of empathy

Every week during November 2020, the indomitable Mary Freer has put together an amazing online program as part of the Compassion Revolution. It was a privilege to be in conversation with Katerina Bryant (writer and PhD student whose first book, Hysteria: A Memoir of Illness, Strength and Women’s Stories Throughout History (NewSouth) is out now; Dr Summer May Finlay (Yorta Yorta woman, public health professional and academic at the University of Wollongong) who played a pivotal part in shaping our discussion). Our session: Beyond empathy: stories that change practice was beautifully chaired by Dr Kate Bowles (Associate Dean International at the University of Wollongong Australia).

The stories of patients and those with lived experience of our health and social care systems are vital to improving the quality of our services and building our awareness and empathy. How do we challenge ourselves to go further than listening? How can we honour the stories that are so generously shared and take the lessons back to our practice?

T Shirt merchandise from the online conference. The logo says: You've got this and we've got you.

An interview with nurse and multi-disciplinary researcher Dr Ruth De Souza

I had a chat with Ben Rodin from The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal . I said a few things. You can read more

“All bodies are not treated the same and we’re not affected by the virus in the same way… how we do healthcare actually matters… There’s some arguments that the failure to care, and poor quality [of care], are actually embedded in the structures and processes of the healthcare system.”

How inclusive is craftivism?

I was invited by Hayley Singer convenor of the Environmental Arts & Humanities Network at the University of Melbourne to be a respondent to one of their seminars, exploring the COVID 19 Global Quilt Project co-instigated by artists, activists, and academics Kate Just and Tal Fitzpatrick. The @covid19quilt project started in April 2020 and the Instagram account invites people to digitally submit a textile square and a small written text about life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The seminar series explores how environmental arts and humanities practices can help societies process social, cultural and environmental complexities by asking environmental arts, humanities scholars, artists and storytellers to reflect on ways environmental arts and humanities can provoke deep engagement, nuanced understanding, and support robust community discussion about the multiple and overlapping environmental and cultural crises of our times. Each seminar hosts an invited interdisciplinary scholar to provide a response to the primary presentation (this was me). You can listen to the webinar.

Images below are a couple of screenshots from my laptop.

What does meaningful participation look like in Citizen Science?

On October 7th 2020 I was invited to be a keynote in The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) CitSciOzOnline Early-Mid Career Researcher (EMCR) 1/2 day symposium. The aim of the symposium was to unite citizen science-aligned researchers in Australia to interrogate and explore research and practice in citizen science across the country. It featured keynotes, lightning talks, Q&A, interactive sessions, and networking opportunities, to build a community of practice in citizen science research.

Photo of frog on a banana, to illustrate  a project called FrogID, which used citizen scientists to map the decline in Sydney of the iconic Australian Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea).

My abstract
Research can change the world, but how it is undertaken is not always beneficial. First Nations critiques of Western science have suggested that many aspects of research resemble colonial processes and are extractive, taking raw contextualised material from people, and making them abstract and universal for the benefit of researchers or institutions. Building on participatory action research and community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods, where researchers collaborate with community partners to investigate issues, citizen science offers a new iteration of co-producing knowledge and participating in the scientific archive outside the university. However, there are also concerns that a participatory agenda is the outcome of reduced funding, and that underfunded research institutions are using unpaid labour to produce knowledge for no cost. This presentation covers principles for working with community partners in authentic, collaborative, sensitive and culturally safe ways.