*Artwork: Nyankulya Walyampari Watson, Ngayuku ngura 2009 (detail), Image © Nyankulya Walyampari Watson / Licenced by Viscopy, 2017
At Flinders University, there is a lot that sets us apart. One of our key differentiators is our commitment to research that improves communities and makes a genuine difference to people’s lives.
A fantastic example of this research commitment is a recent research project undertaken by Flinders University’s first Poche PhD Scholar Maree Meredith. The project, called Pictures of Health, is a three-year study into why art centres are considered essential for community health and wellbeing on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.
Forging a path through unfamiliar educational pathways as an Aboriginal woman enrolled in a PhD is rare enough to make Ms Meredith’s story exceptional. But she sees those demographic facts simply as a footnote to her primary aim – to describe the role of arts centres as a key driver of health and happiness in remote communities in Indigenous Australia.
With the rise in popularity of Aboriginal art, arts centres have become drivers of employment and economic development in many remote communities. They have also become incredibly important social and cultural centres – a place for gathering, telling stories and working.
“I am really interested in the story behind the artwork,” Ms Meredith said.
It’s the human element; I want to tap into what that story is and how that person is telling it. The research is about capturing story and bringing it into an academic piece of writing.
“It has been really important to recognise the factors that promote health through an artist’s eyes. It is about connection to country, about family and about the arts centres which connect them to country but also enable them to express themselves and tell their stories.”
To capture the intensity of experience and the vivid stories expressed in the alternative language of art, Ms Meredith’s thesis will feature reproductions of a range of works produced by women during the course of her project.
Ms Meredith’s own passion for art came about during a gap year, when she discovered a keen interest in rock art while working as a tour guide in the Northern Territory. After completing an honours degree in anthropology, she took on roles with AusAID in Canberra and the Central Land Council in the Northern Territory before returning to study, completing a masters degree at ANU.
In 2011 Ms Meredith was provided with a scholarship from philanthropist Mr Greg Poche to undertake a PhD in Indigenous health at the Flinders University’s Poche Centre in Alice Springs.
“This PhD has shown that there is a transplantable model for successful arts centres that can apply to other Aboriginal communities,” she said.
“I’m hoping this research will inform policy. I don’t think policy recognises the value of art and the work that artists do.”
Meredith’s ground-breaking research is also giving back to Aboriginal communities, providing an Anangu conceptual framework for mapping the research process, translating the research process into language and developing a governance model of decision making for research.