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Dec 17, 2018 Commentary
Indigenous Australian artists and astrophysicists come together to communicate science and culture via art

by Steven Tingay

During the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, we initiated a collaboration between astrophysicists in Western Australia working toward building the largest telescope on Earth, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), and Indigenous artists living in the region where the SKA is to be built. We came together to explore deep traditions in Indigenous culture, including perspectives of the night sky, and the modern astrophysical understanding of the Universe. Over the course of the year, we travelled as a group and camped at the SKA site, we sat under the stars and shared stories about the constellations, and we talked about the telescopes we wanted to build and how they could sit on the Indigenous traditional country. We found lots of interesting points of connection in our discussions and both artists and astronomers found inspiration. The artists then produced <150 original works of art, curated as an exhibition called “Ilgarijiri — Things belonging to the Sky” in the language of the Wadjarri Yamatji people. This was exhibited in Geraldton, Perth, Canberra, South Africa, Brussels, the U.S.A., and Germany over the course of the next few years. In 2015, the concept went further, connecting with Indigenous artists from South Africa, resulting in the “Shared Sky” exhibition, which now tours the ten SKA member countries. The exhibitions communicate astrophysics and traditional Indigenous stories, as well as carry to the world Indigenous culture and art forms. The process behind the collaboration is an example of the Reconciliation process in Australia, successful through thoughtful and respectful engagements, built around common human experiences and points of contact (the night sky). This Commentary briefly describes the collaboration, its outcomes, and future work.

Volume 17 • Issue 04 • 2018