Introducing Doctoral Candidate: Elinor Assoulin

Forging new ways to understand identity through the integration of Indigenous knowledge systems and Art Yarning

Elinor Assoulin’s research focuses on Indigenous understandings of culture, community and identity. It explores the ways in which art therapy processes combined with Indigenous knowledge systems can create new ways of understanding identity and the self.

Her research brought together members of the Gunditjmara and Wathaurong Indigenous communities in South Western Victoria to develop and test her original method.

In a cultural climate characterised by “no sovereignty, and continuing control and regulation of Indigenous Australians through State structures and policies”, Assoulin’s work asks, how do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia make sense of their identities? And how can research methods create the space for new voices to be heard rather than become tools of oppression?

Assoulin coined the term “Art Yarning” to capture part of her integrated methodology.

She says, “despite the positive international and domestic transformation in Indigenous health research practices and an increase representation of Indigenous scholars in academia, research in this area is still dominated by Western methods of inquiry which carry the promise of certainty of new knowledge production that is conditioned on following rules and procedures.”

Her protocol or method centres on the value of integration between art therapy processes and Indigenous cultural practices such as Yarning, which is a common Indigenous story telling practice. Yarning is a form of conversation which Assoulin explains, “has an inseparable link to spirituality making it a powerful way in which Indigenous people connect to one another.”

Assoulin’s interest in art therapy lies in her 12 years experience as an art therapist. She describes art therapy as, “a synthesis between art and psychoanalysis that allows safe and creative pathways for those difficult to describe expressions of self through visual language. Expressions that despite their partial reliance on verbal communication, have the potential to transcend well beyond words and into more authentic ways of knowing and being.”

Her research will culminate in an art exhibition as a decolonised visual method for the representation of research findings. In her words, it will serve as reminder that, “certainty of knowledge and its reliance on verbal communication in the language of the dominating culture is foreign to Indigenous knowledge systems and to many First Nation people’s ways of being.”

Colonialism, often thought of as a relic from our past still lives on in the ways in which we value certainty and rationality to the detriment of alternative ways to know. Assoulin’s important work will shine a light on the “potential for exploration and expression of identities on a more neutral and realistic ground located in two different worldviews, yet connected by the uncertainty of knowledge production and the art yarning process.”

Elinor’s PhD is entitled: Artful Mob: Inquiry into the lived experiences of art yarning journeys with Gunditjmara and Wathaurong Indigenous communities.

The Centre for Applied Social Research is proud to foster innovative and ground breaking social research.

Story: Brigitte Lewis