Vice-Chancellor's Award for Reconciliation

The Balawan Elective Team, ANU School of Art and Design. Team leader: Dr Amanda Stuart
20 November 2018

Each year, a group of ANU School of Art and Design students head to the NSW south coast town of Eden for a week-long field trip. The week includes walks and talks with local Aboriginal people along the historic cultural pathway, the Bundian Way. 

Facilitated by Dr Amanda Stuart and Ms Amelia Zaraftis, the Balawan Elective course connects ANU students and local regional people, including Aboriginal people, in an exchange of ideas and sharing of knowledge. 

Upon returning to the studio, students develop their art practices in response to these field experiences. 

However, Dr Stuart explains the experience is much deeper than what students are assessed on at the end of the semester. 

"The course brings together people from different cultures, including people who were heavily impacted by colonisation and are living the daily impacts of that colonisation," she says.

"For those individuals to want to engage with us in the first place is an incredibly courageous and generous gesture. It has been absolutely crucial that this course be evolved from a base principle of reciprocity, from the very start."

While in the field, the students are informed by local agencies and individuals, who may share little-known chapters of Australia's regional history, including lived experiences of racism, discrimination, resilience and marginalisation. 

The Balawan Elective reached a new milestone this year, when the course's first identifying Indigenous student, Wiradjuri-Walgulu man Aidan Hartshorn, participated in the course.

Aidan is studying a Bachelor of Visual Arts at ANU.

"Aidan referred to the experience and the work he made as a re-emergence of purpose," Dr Stuart says. 

"While at art school, Aidan has become increasingly interested in different expressions of Australian Indigenous art. He wanted to express the positive parts of his heritage."

In 2018 the Sculpture Workshop Foundry cast some of participating Yuin artist Natalie Bateman's work, in bronze. This was a reciprocated gesture of sharing knowledge and opportunities. 

"It's always about finding those in-kind opportunities to give back," Dr Stuart says. Another way the course aims to support participating artists is through including their works in the annual student exhibition. 

Amanda and Amelia say the Elective's success is a testament to the students and the participating knowledge holders.