Faye takes her first, second and third-year students into the physical space of the gallery and they look at all manner of artworks and artefacts, such as jewellery, pottery, weaving and other domestic items that speak to these concepts.
“We spend three minutes looking at an artwork or object, then I invite them to respond to it and talk about it. The students have to unpack it for themselves,” Faye says.
“For example, if we look at Ngarrindjeri artist Sandra Saunders’ Sorry in the context of National Sorry Day, I ask students to think, what does this mean for key concepts and mathematics of genocide on Indigenous bodies? What does the use of this colour mean, and so on?
“If I’m talking about Black Lives Matter and Indigenous deaths in custody, students have to be able to deconstruct and articulate that.
“We use objects like pottery in the context of where it has come from. You need dirt and water to create pottery, so we can use that to think about country and land rights. If you’re taking dirt and water from that land, what does that mean in the context of the land as a living being?
“We’re not surface scratching—it’s a digging, digging deep. We want the students to arrive at a deeper understanding, because we are tired of just talking about ‘cultural awareness’. We want students to be able to really see and name those key concepts in the artworks.”
OBL is also embedded in the assessment process, with students able to use objects in their presentations.
“We say, pick an artwork and think about what that means for you, extend on that in your essay or connect it with a film—give back what you know.”
Faye began using OBL as a teaching methodology in 2015 and has found it increasingly valuable for enriching the teaching and learning experience.
“As a teacher, that’s always the way I’ve worked, using photocopies of artworks or photos, like the one of AFL player Nicky Winmar pulling up his shirt, saying ‘I’m black and I’m proud’, bringing in a handful of dirt to talk about the land.
“For me, it’s the simplicity of things that appeals. What does water mean in the context of rights? What does a camera tell you about the Aboriginal experience? How do these objects tell the story?”
Faye says this creative approach to teaching has a profound impact for her students. Some students taking the courses as electives are so inspired by their experience that they change their entire degree to focus on Indigenous Studies. For First Nations students, it helps them find their voice.
“Normally, Indigenous students are really quiet and shy—it’s a little bit strange for them to speak up. With Indigenous students in the program, I have a habit of really digging but not being too overpowering in my questioning, and I get quiet responses but very clearly articulated.
“ALL of the students say it was their best experience. They tell me it not only brings home what we’re trying to teach them but really adds to their university life—whether they are Indigenous, non-Indigenous or international students.
“I think it also surprises them to see an Indigenous person in this space. As an Indigenous woman, I will always add my own experience and understanding to the students’ learning.”
The richness of FUMA’s contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection is not only valuable for our Indigenous Studies programs, but also for students in other disciplines engaging with Indigenous knowledges and perspectives, such as Art History, Education, Geography, History, Health Sciences, Literature and Social Sciences.
This includes “Teaching Psychiatry and Medicine with Art”, which is designed to help third-year medical students access and develop the qualities of self-awareness, reflection, empathy, cultural awareness and observation that are essential to their professional practice but not easily taught using more traditional medical school methods. This was a concept Professor Michael Baigent (Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine and Public Health) brought back from Harvard University in 2011, which has proven enormously successful.
Other Flinders staff are also increasingly catching on to the power Faye describes, and turning to FUMA to enrich their teaching practice. FUMA Director Fiona Salmon says the more than one hundred OBL bookings made in 2020 represented an almost 50 per cent increase on 2019.
Apart from the Indigenous artists and communities represented in FUMA, Faye says one of the great strengths of the OBL program is FUMA’s staff.
“The mob at FUMA are wonderful, and Liam [Research Assistant Liam McGeah] is just the best! They have a great understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. I see pieces in there I’ve not seen before, and they explain them to me, which adds to my own understanding.
“They are very supportive and knowledgeable in providing whatever we need. We were exploring the history of domestic service and how Aboriginal women were treated as housekeepers, and Liam opens up a drawer of aprons. I said, ‘Oh my god, there are gems in there!’ That’s the strength—we walk in and they say, what can we do for you? It’s a warm, respectful relationship, and every time we visit, we’re learning new things.
“What’s also interesting is that when Liam hears us lecture, he is also learning something. Those on the outside of the learning are also important—we want others to hear it. He gives me what he’s heard, so there is ongoing interaction and dialogue with Liam as a staff member and academic himself.
“We just love FUMA. It’s a very intimate space, and there’s a sense of kindness that allows students to say what they really want to say. There are no right or wrong answers, but ALL answers mean something.”
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