An exciting project called ‘My Story’ which addresses the challenges of both self-awareness and artistic expression, has recently been completed by seven young artists from Qhayiya Secondary School in Zwelihle, and the inspiring results will be on display at the Enlighten Education Trust during the FynArts Festival.
It can be a scary thing to express one’s innermost feelings in public, running the risk of being judged and criticised. But how about projecting those same feelings on to an image that looks like you, but is at one degree removed? This was the fascinating question which these young people were challenged to answer, with an astonishingly powerful outcome.
For several years, Enlighten has offered successful weekly extramural art classes for two separate age groups: primary school children in the lower grades, and older children in the upper primary grades, most of them from Zwelihle and Mount Pleasant. While all the children enjoyed the programme, it became clear that there were some learners with exceptional talent and the dilemma was what would happen to them after they left primary school and entered a high school where no art tuition was available.
From the beginning of this year, on an experimental basis, Enlighten decided to introduce weekly art classes for high school learners with the talent, focus and commitment to take their studies further; youngsters who had already expressed a desire to pursue some form of artistic endeavour after leaving school. The seven (two girls and five boys from Grades 8 to 11) who enrolled for the programme at the beginning of the year have demonstrated their commitment by not being absent from a single class, even during exam times. Most of them had previously participated in Enlighten’s classes for primary school children.
Ashleigh Temple-Camp, their visual arts teacher, describes the ‘My Story’ project as “a process art experience that’s designed to foster self-acceptance, self-expression, confidence, enrichment, creativity and healing”. She adds that it’s been an absolute inspiration to her to see the level of enthusiasm they have brought to this project. “They walk here in the afternoon after a long day at school and as soon as they start work, they go into their own zone. Their focus is absolute; everything external is blocked out and they just go for it. Art provides healing for the soul, you know, and they all have a passion for art. As one of the students, Iviwe Mrwebi, said to me, ‘Art is my life’.”
In this project, the five-week process was as important as the final result – and for most of the students the first step was the most difficult. They were asked to sit down and write a ‘for their eyes only’ account of their lives to date, describing not only events and relationships that had an impact on them, but also their image of themselves, personal emotions and dreams for the future. It demanded honesty and courage to look at areas of their lives that they might have found painful, confusing or embarrassing.
After this, they were asked to think of a body attitude they thought best expressed who they were and then, with the help of a friend, a life-sized body map was traced of them in that physical position. Then came the fun part: using mixed media, found objects, written words, personal symbols, cut-out pictures, photographs and paintings in oil pastels and coloured inks, they literally re-created themselves from the inside out, within their body map. Each image was framed in an abstract depiction of an energy field emanating from the figure.
Every week each of the students was asked to recount some aspect of their story that they felt comfortable sharing with the rest of the group and by the end, some of them felt self-confident enough to cut pieces out of their original written account and add it to the ‘self-portrait’. A short summary of their story also accompanies each piece. “It was incredible to watch them grow in confidence and ability to express themselves week by week,” comments Ashleigh. “They felt as if they could go places, do anything they put their minds to.
“The important thing is that the process created a non-judgemental, uncensored platform from which they could find self-acceptance and move on to further levels of individual and artistic exploration. They have been left with an enormous sense of pride at what they have achieved and excitement about the opportunity to have the work exhibited to the public,” says Ashleigh.
She herself has learnt so much during this process that she is keen to develop a one-day workshop model that she will be able to present at various schools and which will help learners to gain valuable insights into themselves and their environment, and which will open the door to further exploration of opportunities for self-expression. They may not want to become artists, but it will serve them well, whatever they decide to do.
As far as her own group is concerned, Ashleigh is already planning a follow-up project, which she calls ‘Dare to Dream’. The students will be given the chance to imagine a future of hope and self-enrichment where psychological barriers are broken down and they take another step down the path towards finding their own unique artistic voice.
The art exhibition at the Enlighten Education Trust, which also includes vibrant and exciting art works by the younger pupils, will take place at the Enlighten premises on the corner of Swartdam Road and Angelier Street, Mount Pleasant from 7 – 17 June from 09:00 to 17:00 every day. For further information Ashleigh Temple-Camp can be contacted on 083 2085608 or firstname.lastname@example.org