Finalist 2022

Solidarity Art Project - The Journey of Mapiyal

Multidisciplinary, participatory arts project, exploring notions of respect and solidarity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

The Journey of Mapiyal by Indianna Hunt (Wemba Wemba, Gunditjmara, Jardwadjali, Wergaia) is a a multidisciplinary, participatory arts project at RMIT University. Founded in the Wemba Wemba story of mapiyal (platypus in Wemba Wemba language) it explores being proud of who we are and celebrating our differences. The Journey of Mapiyal consists of 2 significant and meaningful artwork installations, co-created by students and staff at each stage. 1.Mapiyal the platypus sculpture, a 4.5 m cane sculpture, wrapped with fabric pledges, installed at Bundoora Campus Lake 2.The Burrow immersive multimedia installation City Campus Airlock B010

Design Brief:

RMIT’s Solidarity Art Project began with a mentorship between Indigenous arts industry leader Kimba Thompson and a small number of emerging Indigenous RMIT alumni & students artists, to create proposals responding to the brief:

  • Creatively communicate the value of respect and solidarity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and for people from all backgrounds to feel safe on campus.
  • Create a participatory artwork that highlights stories, words and ideas that relate to students and their experiences of cultural identity, allyship, inclusion and belonging within RMIT University.
  • Key deliverable is student engagement in the creation of the artwork,
  • The selected proposal will be further developed and presented via a series of creative workshops across the RMIT City, Brunswick and Bundoora Campuses
  • Can be any in artform
  • Artwork installation will be temporary, exhibited for approximately 1 year
  • Provide space for informal conversation and connection between participants around these important issues.

This project was designed and commissioned by:

Design Process

In THE JOURNEY OF MAPIYAL, Indianna Hunt shared the Wemba Wemba story of mapiyal (platypus in Wemba Wemba language) told by her mum Elder Kerry Clarke. This story provides foundation for the project design. Through multiple layers of engagement and participation at each stage, RMIT students and staff co-created the artworks. The artistic team then shaped the contributions into two high-quality, site-specific artworks, exceeding expectations in the projects design and delivery:

  1. The Burrow immersive multimedia installation at RMIT City Campus between B010 & B012. Indianna collaborated with RMIT Masters student and Sound Artist Israel Carter (Wemba Wemba, Ngarrindjeri) and VFX Animation Director and RMIT Alumni John Power. The surround sound design includes Elder Kerry Clarke telling the story of Mapiyal, and participants voices acknowledging and celebrating where they are from. Animation of Indianna’s watercolour artwork was inhabited by swimming platypus designs received online from participants exploring their own identities.
  2. Mapiyal Sculpture, a 4.5m cane platypus sits by the lake at Bundoora West campus. Indianna was supported by professional cane and bamboo artist Mahony Kiely, and student assistants, to construct mapiyal. Weekly workshops invited participants to write pledges towards solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on coloured fabric, to be attached to mapiyal. “Consider where you are along your journey towards solidarity. What would your promise be? What could you do to be kinder in your everyday life or make sure everyone is included?” Ragrugs woven by Indigenous students in the colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags form mapiyal’s heart, representing that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the heart of RMIT and this country” (Indianna Hunt).

Design Excellence

Indigenous led from conception to the final launch, meant cultural safety was imperative throughout the whole process and project. 2020-2021 RUSU Indigenous Officer and project champion, Kimberly Lovegrove (Ngarrindjeri), began devising the Solidarity Art Project hoping to creatively provide space for informal conversation and connection between participants around important issues of solidarity and cultural safety. The initial mentorship provided the artists with meaningful guidance to develop their professional arts practice and strengthen capacity. Additionally, they presented their draft proposals to both Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Boonwurrung Elders for invaluable review.

The mentor remained engaged during presentation to provide ongoing support. An emerging Indigenous Associate Producer, Elijah Money (Wiradjuri), was engaged to support project delivery. Consultation with Ngarara Willim throughout gave critical guidance. Ambitious and unique, The Journey of Mapiyal was designed to be welcoming, offering multiple entry points to students from both inside Australia and overseas (online). Deep, holistic consideration of the experiences at each stage was evident in the project success. The sculpture and workshops travelled from City - Brunswick - Bundoora Campuses, aligning with RUSU Chill N Grill events, providing an informal atmosphere for conversation. Additional design to the workshop space included an AIATSIS language map, allowing artists to share information about their own countries.

For many students, especially those from overseas, this blew their mind and challenged preconceptions of Aboriginal Australia, inspiring them to further research. Both The Burrow and Mapiyal Sculpture sit within site specific public spaces, enhancing the audience experience of the architecture and environment. Through sonic and visual arts students can see themselves reflected in the site, building a sense of belonging. Each artwork is uniquely engaging in its own right, but together they form a cohesive whole. This project has opened possibility for creative projects across RMIT campuses including internationally.

Design Innovation

“Many students here at RMIT, like me, have come from a long way away, but we are always connected by waterways. I was asked to come up with a concept relating to solidarity, respect, cultural identity, allyship, inclusion and belonging. The story of the Platypus is very fitting. It speaks to being proud of who you are and where you’ve come from, while also respecting who others are.”

  • Alumni artist Indianna Hunt

The Journey of Mapiyal artwork project successfully communicates the themes within the Wemba Wemba story of mapiyal, while exceeding the broader design brief of the Solidarity Art Project.

The RMIT community is highly diverse, with local and international student population both in Australia and around the world. Launching off the global Black Lives Matter movement and locating it in Australian landscape, students identified with this social issue as something that could be explored through a creative lens. Project champion Kimberly Lovegrove explained the global diversity of our RMIT community sometimes lead to gaps in understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, history, culture and innovation. It highlighted a need for visibility, safety and belonging.

The Journey of Mapiyal claimed a physical and psychological space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to feel valued & respected. It amplified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices, and offered opportunities to lead conversations on their own terms. Non-indigenous people were able to support, learn, reflect and listen, and also be active contributors to social change.

Design Impact

Key positive outcomes and impacts including social, environmental and cultural safety:

  • High profile public space installations communicated respect and value for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • By centering Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander students and staff, claims space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to feel welcome and proud.
  • RMIT Creative engaged Associate Producer Elijah Money (Wiradjuri) to support the delivery of the project.
  • Assertion of cultural solidarity and allyship with diverse RMIT student communities.
  • Amplifying and celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and experiences.
  • Accessible participation with 3 types of creative engagement: sound, visual and written.
  • Feelings of pride and connection to the artwork, each stage having meaningful participation, being a part of creating social change.
  • 2 high quality, engaging, site specific temporary art installations across 2 campuses for thousands of passers-by to experience providing ongoing conversation and reflection.
  • Designs of the artwork successfully communicated the themes within the story of mapiyal.
  • Celebrated diversity of student population.
  • Cross cultural relationships developed -Stronger internal RMIT relationships between RUSU, Student Life and Ngarara Willim
  • Bundoora campus is often overlooked when it comes to arts installation, thrilled to instal mapiyal there
  • Informative addition of AIATSIS map to workshops
  • Materials are recycled, reclaimed, non-toxic and natural fibres
  • Animation projection chosen over printed decal to minimise plastic waste for The Burrow
  • Capacity was developed in both indigenous and non-indigenous artists and workers.
  • Strong Cultural IP protections as part of the artist agreements, based on Australia Council for the Arts Protocols for using First Nations Intellectual Property in the Arts.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The Journey of Mapiyal was designed with the environment and sustainability in mind. The sculpture only uses natural materials:

  • cotton fabric sourced from second hand shops, sewn onto the sculpture using cotton thread.
  • cane and bamboo left over from other artists projects and donated to this one
  • jute and heshan for knots at joints.
  • waterbased, non toxic PVA is used to fix the joints for durability on the weather.
  • concrete plinth is supplied second hand from the Installer.
  • The Burrow: painted surface for projection was arrived at after much testing. Original design was to have printed decal on the windows, but the single use nature of that much printed plastic was not desireable. Instead we have used one layer of water based paint to create the projection surface.

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