18 September 2019

Art imitates school life at Bonython Primary

| Michael Weaver
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Bonython Primary School year 5 students Sophie Brennan and Hannah Bowman

Bonython Primary School year 5 students Sophie Brennan and Hannah Bowman with the Acknowledging Country artworks at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre. Photos: Supplied.

Almost 400 students at Bonython Primary School have turned their year-long inquiry into acknowledging country into a ground-breaking art exhibition, currently showing at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre.

Bonython Primary School deputy principal Marc Warwick told Region Media the artworks on show involved all 397 students and are a vital part of the school’s focus for this year’s curriculum.

The project saw Bonython students engage with members from the local Ngunnawal community and explore what it means to acknowledge First Nations’ people.

To do this, Mr Warwick said the students embraced the concept and developed a deeper knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture.

“The central concept is about our students’ understanding and acknowledgement of the land upon which they learn, play, walk and wonder, and how they can represent their new understandings through art,” he said.

Tuggeranong Arts Centre CEO Rauny Worm said the partnership gave students the chance to become collaborators, communicators and researchers, and explore acknowledgement of country in a meaningful way.

“This whole-school exhibition is a beautiful acknowledgement of Ngunnawal country and a gesture of reconciliation. Each artwork embraces the diversity of student thinking and experiences while connecting to new perspectives and understandings gained throughout the project,” Ms Worm said.

The artworks are the creative outcomes of students getting outside the classroom for tours with Indigenous elders. This involved ACT National Parks Indigenous rangers Travis Blackburn, Kie Barratt and staff from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Section at the ACT Education Directorate.

Elder Adam Shipp passed on his knowledge of bush tucker and the way Indigenous people use the land.

Indigenous performer and dancer Joe Chapman-Freeman and Caroline Hughes also shared their time and knowledge.

One of the artworks at the Acknowledging Country exhibition at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre.

“Children from pre-school to year 6 created a whole range of pieces of art that all focus on how different people have used the land over time. It provides a great step forward in our reconciliation journey at Bonython,” Mr Warwick said.

He said that visual arts teacher at Bonython, Karen Wilson, was also an integral part of bringing the concept of turning the students’ artworks into an exhibition.

“Karen really drove the concepts to what we have at the arts centre and a whole lot of work went into that part of the journey.

“We’re an inquiry-based school, where questions drive what we do. We still teach curriculum but we use it as an enabler to motivate and engage students, and we use questions as the learning tools.

“It’s been a lot of work but it’s been really great for our school and we’ve had a lot of traction on social media and even some international people have been sharing our story on Twitter.”

Mr Warwick said a crucial part of the exhibition also documents the process of students learning about their environment by being in that environment.

“The kids have really developed their understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, with the use of visual arts making it really meaningful.

“It was also a real step forward for us to engage in reconciliation and what it means to be on the land that belongs to First Nations people. Two of our key values are around embracing diversity and showing empathy towards others, so this really emphasised the importance of showing empathy for all people regardless of where you’re from.

“If we can deepen the understanding of the world in which we live for our students, they have more chance of growing into being successful, active and informed citizens who are empathetic and embrace diversity,” he said.

Mr Warwick said more than 180 people packed the Tuggeranong Arts Centre at the exhibition opening on 5 September and that it may be the making of some budding professional artists.

You can find out more about the Acknowledging Country exhibition and what can be achieved through creative partnerships at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre until 25 September. Entry is free.

Hanna Malkus’ artwork Midnight Moth (watercolour and acrylic on paper and canvas). Photo: Karen Wilson.

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