After the Flood
Placemaking through Design in Warmun
by Dr. Samantha Edwards-Vandenhoek
The Role of Public Art and Participatory Design in Building Resilience and Place-making in the Warmun Aboriginal Community, East Kimberley, WA
Funded through Swinburne's 2015 Early Career Researcher Scheme this research examines how public art initiatives involving participatory design processes can nurture belonging, pride and a sense of place, as well as encouraging strong and inclusive local communities. In particular, as ways of creating physical environments that are more responsive to their inhabitants cultural, emotional, spiritual and social needs. The methodological framework is informed by Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing. The guiding principle involves decolonisation, “a process of conducting research in such a way that the worldviews of those who have suffered a long history of oppression and marginalisation are given space to communicate from their frames of reference” (Chilisa 2012, 23).
Here, ‘design’ is about making sense of things and ‘participation’ means collaboration; caring, attending to and listening, and co-creation to negotiate ill-defined and complex problems and promote healing and emancipation.
This project evolved through a deliberate and negotiated consultation process with the Gija community, Warmun Council and Art Centre during a pre-research trip in July 2014. These discussions focused on how Warmun could re-establish a positive relationship to their environment following a devastating flood in 2014 that wiped out the town infrastructure. Moreover, to negotiate the legacies of the rebuild that involved minimal consultation with the community. Centred on a locally driven public art program that reinforces Gija culture and traditions, it was hoped that this project would enable the community to reclaim and activate public spaces and a sense of ownership.
This pilot research has led to several significant positive benefits for both the Warmun and Swinburne communities.
- Working with the Ngalangangpum School, high school arts curriculum focused on developing leadership capacity through curatorship is being developed to ensure the long-term management of the public art outcomes.
- Sensitive and comprehensive consultation fostered intergenerational engagement. The project supported the ongoing involvement and mentoring of young artists, who developed their skills and confidence in visual design, community consultation processes.
- Gija community members have commented that they feel these murals make the community look aesthetically beautiful and have enhanced their experience of their public spaces.
- Residents have expressed satisfaction and pride in the positive image they project of Warmun for people visiting the community for work, social reasons, to patronise the Warmun Art Centre and as service providers.
- The project facilitated engagement with ideas around about individual and collective authorship and opened up the possibility of further research opportunities.