Reflecting on emotions of the past at new Wollongong exhibition

18 August 2016

A new photo exhibition, Treasured Possessions, explores the 'profound life experiences' of Wollongong's senior residents.

Treasured Possessions participant Maureen Lyndon holds an ornate pink tea cup. Image: Jason Cole

Wollongong resident Maureen Lyndon holds an ornate pink tea cup. The area's seniors played an active role in creating the new exhibition. Image: Jason Cole

Delving into the rich history of some of Wollongong’s more senior residents and their most precious items is the focus of a new free exhibition created in conjunction with the University of Sydney.

On now, and running until September 2 at the Wollongong City Art Gallery, the Treasured Possessions Exhibition is the culmination of an eight-week project run by the university’s node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

The project encouraged participants, aged 65-94, to think of their past not as the usual who, what, when, and where, but instead consider their emotional connections to treasured objects in their lives, including war medals, photographs and family heirlooms.

Incorporating University of Sydney research, museum visits, workshops, and guest lectures, the project enabled the participants to learn how emotions shape history and consider the importance of objects in reflecting on the past.

Treasured Possessions co-coordinator and University of Sydney researcher Dr Kimberley-Joy Knight said the exhibition shows how treasured possessions are able to elicit an emotional response from both the owner and the observer.

“The exhibition takes the observer on a journey through several themes that highlight some ways of exploring and understanding the complexity of emotions and material culture. For example, some of the items are connected to a particular time and allow us to explore themes such as the emotions associated with war and migration,” she said.  

“It is a deeply moving exhibition because the participants from the project lead us through some of their most profound life experiences and show how emotions make history.”

Dr Knight said working with the seniors from Dapto and surrounding areas had been extremely rewarding.

“We recruited a wonderful group of seniors who were incredibly committed, as well as keen, to learn and bring their own insights and skills. The exhibition shows how seniors are an incredibly valuable source of knowledge and have much to offer our communities,” she said.

Dr Knight is hopeful the program can be undertaken by other organisations, including retirement trusts, museums and cultural services, to address the mental health issues often associated with older members of the community, including loneliness, isolation and disadvantage.

The participants’ stories have been collated into a book, also called Treasured Possessions, which will be launched on Thursday night at the Wollongong Art Gallery. Dr Knight and participants will be in attendance and available for interview.

Annika Dean

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Humanities and Social Sciences)