It has never been made public why ARTEXPRESS ceased touring to Campbelltown Arts Centre (C-A-C) after the year 2000. The only evidence of the decision was its absence from the Friend’s Journal in subsequent years. The return of the exhibition, which exhibits major works from HSC visual arts students, has filled a critical gap in C-A-C’s program, where young people are given wall space once a year as a part of the Fisher’s Ghost Art Prize.
When you study curatorship/audience engagement there are two key learnings in your first year. Firstly, that people visit galleries and museums in the hope of finding themselves, their ideas or their values reflected back to them. Secondly, that if you can engage young people in your program, you have potentially captured audience members for life who in turn will then bring their children. Despite the confusingly blatant dismissal in three opening speeches that ARTEXPRESS had previously shown at C-A-C, the return of the exhibition provides the opportunity to boost family and youth visitation to the gallery.
The exhibition of ARTEXPRESS at C-A-C is one of nine exhibitions that endeavour to get more student’s work on show across New South Wales. The showcase is a partnership between NSW Education Standards Authority and NSW Department of Education. 55% of the total number of works on display at C-A-C are by students from schools across western Sydney and regional NSW. In particular, there are 23 students from 21 schools across western Sydney and regional NSW. Of this, the majority of the schools involved are public, with one being from the Macarthur Region where C-A-C is based. This is important if the exhibition is to be representative of local school’s resources and budgets for art materials, but also to demonstrate to future students what can be achieved with the resources they have and dedication.
‘We are proud to present ARTEXPRESS, showcasing the accomplishments of HSC students and celebrating their hard-earned successes. It is inspiring to see such diverse themes explored across a variety of media, including quite a few ceramics and animated works in the mix,’ said Michael Dagostino, Director of Campbelltown Arts Centre.
ARTEXPRESS demonstrates that young people are culturally aware and socially engaged, exploring both personal and political themes.
Joanna Cao of James Ruse Agricultural High School looked at the history of political activism in China in her work titled, ‘Angry Little Dissidents.’ Red pockets depict highly skilled, miniature paintings of teenage protesters of Tiananmen Square through to contemporary activists for social and ethnic minorities. In Chinese culture, these small red pockets (hongbao) are a national symbol for good fortune. The pockets stand upright on the plinth, arranged in such a way that it replicates protesters marching in formation, led by renowned artist Ai Weiwei.
Bulli High School student, Alinta Maeve’s series of drawings titled ‘Songlines’ captures the human form in a manner that recalls the photographs of Ricky Maynard. The work depicts two Aboriginal elders alongside their grandchildren, representing the intergenerational continuity of culture. Maeve explains that her work represents the ‘Aboriginal Dreamtime who sang the land into life, their journey forming intricate maps of land, sea and country.’ Like the photographs of Maynard, these drawing capture portraits with a likeness to the contours, valleys and plains of the landscape.
In 2016 there was a renewed attention on the pressures felt by young people undergoing standardised testing. Whether NAPLAN or the Higher School Certificate, both academics and journalists have joined parents to weigh in on their concerns for young people’s mental health in the current education system. In a series of drawings titled ‘Under Pressure’, Rochelle Jane Manalili of All Saints Catholic Senior College, captures the stresses to achieve academically with an air of humour. With her subjects pressed against glass, Manalili reminds audiences that the HSC experience doesn’t have to be stressful, but that students still need recreational time as a part of the balance.
With its opening coinciding with the school holidays and the end of National Youth Week, ARTEXPRESS provides a rare opportunity to celebrate the creativity and ideas that young people have to offer society more broadly. Exhibitions like this provide the opportunity for intergenerational understanding to be developed.
This article was first published by State of the Arts Media on May 5, 2017.