Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa’s research into phosphate mining in Banaba 17 years ago was inspired by deep personal connections to the island.
“Banaba is my father’s ancestral home in Kiribati and we grew up in Fiji as a minority group hearing stories of how the Banaban’s were moved in 1945 because of British, Australian and New Zealand phosphate mining and World War II,” Professor Teaiwa said.
This foreign exploitation of natural resources led to a devastating loss of the island’s land and food resources and despite Australia’s role in this destruction, little is known about Australia’s involvement.
Professor Teaiwa felt motivated to change this.
Recently her research has been adapted into a comic book aimed at high school students. The comic examines human impact on global food production through the lens of the Anthropocene – which is the current geological age where humans are recgonised as the dominant shaping force of the biophysical world.
Her research was also adapted for a 10 year national museum exhibition in New Zealand, a multimedia visual arts exhibition in New Zealand, a dance performance in the USA, a DVD produced at ANU, an international comic book chapter and a major multimedia arts exhibition funded by Carriageworks in Sydney which will launch in 2017.
Professor Teaiwa’s passion for alternative forms of research impact continues to motivate her.
“There are always ethical, political and technical concerns in translating your work.
"I think academics need to seriously explore other forms of knowledge production and other ways of measuring research impact. We need to reach out to wider audiences for our work, including young people and the public," said Professor Teaiwa.
For any researcher out there inspired to adapt their work into creative forms, Professor Teaiwa has this advice;
“Start off with a blog, a visual essay, or a piece for the Conversation or other media outlet. Consider writing your books or articles in accessible language. Consider working with artists, communities, museums and galleries to translate your work into visual or performance modes, I did this right from the beginning of my PhD research and there were many successes and many failures along the way.
“Innovation for me is not just doing what is safe and familiar in terms of symposia, research publications and policy work. Innovation and creativity requires us to experiment, to take risks, to step out of our comfort zones and explore what is meaningful and inspiring to truly diverse audiences,” Professor Teaiwa said.
Image: Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa from Samuel Jaramillo’s and Alexandra Hamann's Comic book chapter on phosphorus and food security in Eating Anthropocene (Springer 2016).