The Treasured Possessions project successfully elicited emotion, but co-coordinator Dr Kimberley-Joy Knight struggled to express her own feelings on Thursday.
The University of Sydney researcher was however “quite emotional’’ when she launched the Treasured Possessions book and exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery.
The free exhibition running until September 2 delves into the rich history of some of Wollongong’s more senior residents and their most precious items.
The August 18 launch was 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.
Project participants, aged 65-94, such as Maureen Lyndon from Kiama, were encouraged 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.
Mrs Lyndon chose to exhibit and talk about a cup and saucer she was given by her grandmother.
“I was 55-years-old when I found out that I was actually adopted….it was when I found out that I didn’t really belong, that I came to realise how special the cup and saucer actually is,’’ she said.
Dapto great-grandmother Glenrae Baker said she now had a “shared connection’’ with fellow participants.
“We’ve been asked to remember and look back and reflect on things that have happened to us and they’ve drawn out from us feelings that we probably hadn’t realised that we had before,’’ Mrs Baker said.
Dr Knight said 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.
She said the exhibition shows how treasured possessions are able to elicit an emotional response from both the owner and the observer.
“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.
“I feel incredibly emotional now to see the final product. It is amazing.’’
She 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,” Dr Knight said.
She is hopeful the program can be undertaken by other organisations 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 can be downloaded from www.historyofemotions.com.au