Indigenous Art Initiative

Indigenous Art Initiative
trinity class students
Trinity boys art
class 4

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in the Year 7 and 8 Art Curriculum

As National Reconciliation Week draws to a close, we reflect on the theme, More than a word.  Reconciliation takes action.  At Trinity Grammar School decades of commitment to Reconciliation has taken many forms and the School continues to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students and to incorporate ATSI history and cultural practice within the School.

The Visual Arts present a dynamic and accessible way to teach the historical and contemporary contribution of ATSI culture.  In 2020, The Art Faculty began to embed ATSI artistic practice into the curriculum, initially in years 7 and 8.  This program includes class modules for teachers but also direct engagement with ATSI communities and an Artist in Residence program.

The Arts curriculum requires the exploration of art forms, visual and performing, from different social, cultural and historical contexts, and schools are expected to include learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art forms in their teaching and learning programs. (VCAA, 2016)

Art in years 7 and 8 at Trinity is an intensive term-based subject, so each class will study one unit or the equivalent of three weeks (12 classes) of ATSI content.  The study of ATSI art forms is dictated within the Victorian Curriculum, and with the curriculum as a guide, all the content developed and delivered within the Art Faculty follows these guiding principles:

  • Students are provided with a historical framework to develop a broader understanding of the breadth of ATSI cultural practice and the philosophical foundations that underpin it,
  • Students are encouraged to think critically about western art conventions and perspectives,
  • Students will view the work within the framework of the cross-curricula priority of sustainability, reinforcing how ATSI cultural practice is inextricably linked to Country, and,
  • Students will understand that ATSI artistic practice is present in both urban and remote regions of Australia and is dynamic, evolving and contemporary.

Where possible, students will have instruction from an ATSI teacher/artist, either in person in the classroom, through digital content or by directly referencing art works. The dominant voice or cultural authority in the classroom remains Indigenous; the teacher acts as a facilitator rather than the subject specialist.  The Artist in Residence Program allows students to hear, watch and listen to an ATSI voice.  This is particularly important in highlighting the evolving and contemporary nature of ATSI artistic practice, addressing stereotypes and facilitating an exchange of cultural ideas.   As artists create artworks as part of a residency, the School develops a collection of artworks that continue to serve as teaching tools long after the residency has finished.

In 2020 Trinity students worked with established West Arnhem Land artist, Lorraine Kabbindi White.  White was commissioned to produce a series of four works on paper in the West Arnhem style that are now part of the Trinity Grammar collection and have been used to create an installation in the Drum, a teaching space in the Tudor Centre. Many of the students in year 7 and 8 worked directly with White discussing her techniques and the underlying philosophy behind her works.  In 2021, students have worked with weavers from the Numbulwar community in the Gulf of Carpentaria.  Students were introduced to the senior weavers through an instructional video created on Country by the community with the assistance of the Australia Council.  The students in response discussed the issue of discarded fishing or ghost nets in the Gulf and how the Numbulwar community have begun to repurpose these fishing nets into colourful baskets.  The students wove small baskets in the Numbulwar style which were installed in the Daley Gallery as a group work.  In term 3 students will be working with Donna Blackall, a Yorta Yorta (Shepparton) weaver now based in Ballarat. Students will collaborate with Blackall to create a sculptural piece based on an important creation story for the Kulin Nations.  The final artwork will be installed in the Tudor Centre.

All the units of work are designed to encourage higher order thinking about aesthetics and belief systems.   Content is organised into three conceptual areas that encourage critical thinking and personal reflection:

Symbols – encourages students to think about how we use shapes, pattern and colour to represent a range of ideas, identity and belonging.

Metamorphosis – focuses on alternative definitions of time, being and belief. ATSI cosmology has a circular notion of time and being. In ATSI cultural practice one is part of the landscape or Country and there are not the same divisions between the human state of being and the animal and plant world.  In the cycle of life and death, everything is in a constant state of metamorphosis or change.  

Country – refers to how we relate to the natural world around us and how it informs our sense of identity.  ATSI people have links to Country through language and cultural practices including dance, songs, stories and totems. Aboriginal people may be connected to Country in terms of custodianship/cultural authority and identity from both sides of their family, so they may have many stories and totems that link them to complex social structures and a sense of family and identity.

The delivery or Pedagogical framework for the units of work reinforce the three key conceptual principles framing their enquiry.  Students will have three modes of learning; individual, small teams and collaborative.

Individual work – students will work on their own to create a small piece of work that can be assessed and maintain a personal record of the unit within their visual diaries.

Reflection – Students will reflect on the differences and similarities between the artistic practice of different ATSI artists.  They will address stereotypes of ATSI artistic practice and understand it to be contemporary, evolving and occurring in many different styles and media across Australia.  Students will consider the historical influences, lineage of stories and culture and understand the importance of its continuity.

Collaboration – students will work in groups to discuss the key themes of the work they have been creating and work towards installing a small installation (exhibition) with accompanying interpretive material.  They will understand the importance of the social context of art making in Aboriginal communities and the symbolic importance and utility that objects are imbued with.

Over time these units of work may be modified to adapt to visiting artists or new thematic areas or media, however the core design of the unit has now been written, delivered and evaluated.  It is exciting to realise that every year 7 and 8 student studying Art at Trinity will have some introduction to ATSI perspectives. 

Over the remainder of the 2021 School year, the Art Faculty will begin to embed programs for students in years 9,10 and VCE.  Students currently in VCE Unit 3 and 4 Studio Arts are studying two Indigenous artists and students in VCE Media and Visual Communication will also participate in the Artist in Residence program in term 3.

Sarah George 2021