A Global Research Institute of Queen's University Belfast


From Aboriginal Australia to Northern Ireland


Collapse the Box: Heather Kamarra Shearer and Professor Fiona Magowan Northern Visions Television (NVTV)

The Mitchell Institute recently hosted the Australian Stolen Generations artist, Heather Kamarra Shearer’s exhibition, Four Directions of Social Justice. This was the first time an Aboriginal artist had exhibited at Queen’s University, held in the Naughton Gallery from 20 May to 6 June 2016. A collaboration between the artist and Professor Fiona Magowan, the School of History and Anthropology, was funded by the Australian Arts Council.

This collaboration resulted in a series of public events taking place across the academic year, culminating in the exhibition. A renowned artist, activist and leader of Stolen Generations’ issues, Heather Kamarra Shearer uses her art to engage Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in dialogue about significant issues around recognition, reparation and reconciliation. Together, we worked vigorously to develop an intercultural programme of talks and workshops on how issues of social justice in the Aboriginal context relate to Northern Ireland. Heather’s art addresses historical injustices of the past and helps the public to understand comparative social, cultural and political ideas about dispossession, loss and reclamation in international cross-cultural contexts. Heather’s art is a statement of her history of personal and national displacement, as well as of empowerment and rights of belonging. From her own personal testimony, she relates how she has worked on Aboriginal legal rights and reparations tribunals for over thirty years. This partnership with Queen’s marks a twenty-year anniversary of links that started in 1996 between three Aboriginal Australian artists, including Heather, with community organisations in Belfast and around the north of Ireland. In recognition of the significance of the Institute’s work in taking forward these connections in 2016, Heather very generously donated a piece of her artwork, ‘Seven Sisters for Social Justice’ to the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Security, Peace and Justice, which is featured in this documentary. Placing the Aboriginal context in global perspective, Professor Magowan discusses how Heather’s research is fundamental to understanding human rights, belonging and reparation as well as the transformative effects of the arts in conflict transformation around the globe. Heather’s art details the history of colonisation and Australian policies that have included assimilation and led to dispossession and dislocation. In countering this injustice, Heather discusses how she uses art to approach a complex identity, as well as her own Aboriginal sense of belonging and rightful place as a descendant of the oldest living culture in the world.

Her artwork, ‘Seven Sisters for Social Justice’ displayed in this exhibition was presented to the Mitchell Institute in recognition of the work in conjoining Australian Aboriginal – Northern Irish research, bringing together the legacies of Northern Irish divisions with those in the Australia-Pacific continent in order to pursue global peace.