Comic Art Posters Communicate the Experiences of Indigenous Scholars in the Academy

By Dr Corrinne Sullivan and Dr Jessica Weir

The Extraction Zombies poster illustrates Indigenous scholars facing zombie-like colleagues who chase them for roles such as 'Indigenous guest lecturer', 'Indigenous reviewer' and 'Indigenous rep on my committee'.Extraction Zombies (just in time for Halloween!) highlights the tokenism and minority tax experienced by many Indigenous scholars, perhaps in your university department.

In February 2020, a group of Indigenous and allied scholars collaborated with Ad Astra Comix to produce a series of posters about some of the experiences that Indigenous peoples have in the academy. The four posters have just been released and are free to download here (opens in a new window).

Western Sydney University researchers Dr Corrinne Sullivan, Associate Dean (Indigenous Education) in the School of Social Sciences, and Dr Jessica Weir, Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Culture and Society, formed part of this Indigenous-allied Australia-North America collaboration, to create comics that promote anti-racist alternatives to the extractive academy.

The posters use humour and irony to generate teachable moments for audiences that are generally unaware of the extractive nature of research and universities for Indigenous scholars. In one poster, Indigenous scholars are pursued by their zombied colleagues seeking to tokenise their Indigenous identities. And, yes, a cure was found.

Seriously though, the violences experienced by Indigenous peoples within the academy are predominately unnoticed, misunderstood, and downplayed by their colleagues, and yet Indigenous scholars persist as leaders within the academy, in part to contribute to academic knowledge creation and to leverage these powerful places for positive change.

The posters celebrate and demonstrate Indigenous peoples’ ongoing survival, resistance and resurgence. All emphasise the importance of enduring Indigenous lands and peoples and explore how collaboration can embody meaningful collective action.

Indigenous people are central to the academy. All campuses in North America and Australia are on Indigenous land, and knowledge of that land and how to live there is the inheritance of the Indigenous people to that place, including their governance structures and academic norms.

The people behind the posters are Indigenous scholars Dr Corrinne Sullivan, Dr Carolyn Smith (opens in a new window)(UC Berkeley), and Associate Professor Beth Piatote (opens in a new window)(UC Berkeley), with allied ‘stage crew’ provided by non-Indigenous scholars Dr Jessica Weir and Dr Sibyl Diver (opens in a new window)(Stanford).

From the outset, this collective of scholars chose to work across their differences and establish mutually supportive roles, whilst always centring Indigenous voices and leadership to develop narratives and dialogue for posters rich with humour and irony.

Graphic artists Nicole Burton and Hugh Goldman from Ad Astra Comix (opens in a new window)brought their talents, to help draw out deep reflection and powerful storytelling into illustrations to realise the posters.

Critically, the way the posters were produced reflects the shared understanding of this collaboration: that decolonising and Indigenising the academy does not involve creating an exclusive Indigenous space; rather, it is work to secure a more respectful academy that can learn how to appropriately centre Indigenous voices.

Download the poster series

The “So You Care About Indigenous Scholars?” series of four posters is available for download from the Ad Astra Comix website (opens in a new window).

Extraction Zombies citation: Smith, C, Piatote, B, Sullivan, C, Weir, J, Diver, S, Burton, NM, and H Goldring 2020. ‘Extraction Zombies’, So you care about Indigenous scholars? poster series, Ad Astra Comix, Canada.

Posted: Tuesday 27 October 2020