Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in the Classroom is a professional development offering for educators, which has been developed and run independently by AGSA. The program is, however, presented in collaboration with individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, as their voice is critical to the pedagogic aims of the program.
These sessions provide a best-practice model for educators, demonstrating how to respond to works of art while recognising the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Through discussion and practical application, educators develop cultural understanding, challenge their preconceptions, and make connections to their students’ histories and cultures.
Over time, the program, has evolved and continues to do so, ensuring that repeat attendees will experience a different workshop each time, with a new Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist. See below for a selection of examples from some of the previous workshops.
Jenna Lee and Adrianne Semmens - October 2023
- Gallery tour with Nici Cumpston, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and Gloria Strzelecki, Associate Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
- Presentation workshop led by Education Coordinator, Kylie Neagle
- Artist talk and workshop with Barkandji artist Adrianne Semmens
- Artist talk and workshop with Jenna Lee, a Gulumerridjin (Larrakia), Wardaman and KarraJarri Saltwater woman with mixed Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Anglo-Australian ancestry.
This session began with an icebreaker task looking at the work of Every face has a story, every story has a face: Kulila! by Yarrenyty Arltere Artists in which teachers made their own paper portrait. This activity is a great one to do in classrooms with students of any age and at any time of the year, but particularly apt for transition days or Reconciliation Week.
Educators then took a tour of Tarnanthi with Nici Cumpston and Gloria Strzelecki, followed by a strategy based session with Kylie Neagle. Here teachers examined the work of Vincent Namatjira and specifically the collaborative pop-up book collages he created with fellow artist Tony Albert. Teachers were then introduced to the 'starting with the artist' flowchart and brainstormed ways their students could respond to Namatjira's work, they then had a chance to modify their own children's book, inject some humour and improve the story. These books were donated by Oxfam but in a school setting teachers may like to photocopy books instead of modifying them in this way.
Continuing with the theme of listening (Kulila means to listen) teachers heard from Jenna Lee, an artist currently based in Naarm (Melbourne), about her current practice and the journey to becoming an artist, designer and book cover illustrator. Teachers had an opportunity to learn a coiling technique using Japanese paper and were encouraged to consider introducing this to students from a design thinking perspective. For example what other papers or fibres can coil in this way, where else have you seen this type of coiling and testing the strength of certain materials.
Finally teachers heard from artist and performer, Adrianne Semmens. Here they were introduced to ways to incorporate movement into the classroom with simple mapping activities using string and butchers paper. Each teacher used a different piece of wool to trace their journey from their home to AGSA. A simple task which is accessible for all children, in which they could then transform this exercise into a painting or collaborative drawing or even a movement based performance. Educators were then encouraged to think of a movement that encapsulated their feelings and ideas of the day they had just experienced, with the help of Adrianne, teachers stitched some of these movements together to create a group choreography piece performed to music.
A special mention
With the support of BHP AGSA was able to offer transport bursaries to 16 South Australian regional and interstate teachers to visit the Gallery and take part in this workshop. This included teachers from Port Lincoln, Port Augusta, Ceduna, Waikerie, Blyth, Tennant Creek, Port Pirie, Stirling North, Naracoorte, Tanunda, Mil Lel, Kangaroo Inn, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
Adrianne Semmens movement activity
Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre - Online April 2023
- Recorded floor talk by Nici Cumpston, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and Tarnanthi Artistic Director on the work of Dhambit Mununggurr, senior artist at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre. (pre-event learning)
- Behind the scenes tour of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre including conversations artists.
- Strategy based and hands-on workshop led by AGSA Education Coordinator, Kylie Neagle and Tarnanthi Education Officer, Sally Lawrey.
With Ms. N Marawili pink bark paintings as a starting point, teachers were asked to create a work of art about their favourite place or season, using a monochromatic palette.
Alfred Lowe, Juanella McKenzie and Thea Perkins- October 2022
- Curator talk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curator Nici Cumpston Assistant Director and Artistic Programs Dr. Lisa Slade.
- Strategies presentation on the 'Starting with the artist' flowchart, responding to the work of Sonia and Elissa Carmichael with Education Coordinator, Kylie Neagle.
- Artist talks and workshops with Arrentre ceramist Alfred Lowe, Adnyamathanha and Luritja artist Juanella McKenzie and Arrernte and Kalkadoon artist Thea Anamara Perkins.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diverse, and their art is too.
Some people are familiar with the Western Desert art movement, sometimes known as “dot painting”. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diverse, and so is their art practice, just like artists anywhere. In fact, there are two overarching groups of people who are Indigenous to Australia: mainland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who live on the islands off the northern coast of Queensland. There are about five distinct language groups among Torres Strait Islander peoples, and their art and cultural traditions are very different. Altogether there are over 120 distinct indigenous languages spoken today, although there were more than 500 languages and dialects before European settlement.
This session included a Gallery tour with Nici Cumpston and Lisa Slade, a teaching strategy presentation by Kylie Neagle, followed by three artist workshops with Alfred Lowe, Thea Perkins and Juanella McKenzie. Each artist gave us insight into their arts practice as well as facilitating hands on activities that responded to their work which teachers could use in their classroom. The activities ranged from line based drawing and printing, portraiture and mark making - in which all were linked to personal memories or places and people that were important to the participants.
Yarrenyty Arltere and Tangentyere Art Centres including artist talks with Marlene Rubuntja and Nunga aka Marjorie Williams -Online October 2022
- Presentation by Nici Cumpston, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and Tarnanthi Artistic Director (pre-event learning)
- Behind the scenes tour of Yarrenyty Arltere and Tangentyere Art Centres including artist talks. (Live during event on 5 October)
- Strategy based and hands-on workshop led by AGSA Education Coordinator, Kylie Neagle. (Live during event on 5 October)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is always changing.
Just as non-Aboriginal Australian art or European art has changed a lot over the last 400 years and continues to change, you can expect that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art has changed a lot over 55,000 years and is continually evolving. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists are maintaining traditions while innovating every day.
What materials do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists use?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists use a wide variety of materials, including: natural pigment as well as synthetic polymer paint on eucalyptus bark, canvas and composition board; sculptures made from various materials including wood, glass and fibre; ceramics; photography; video art; street art; printmaking; and many more.
In this online workshop artists from Yarrenyty Arltere and Tangentyere Art Centres provided participants with a tour of the art centre and a behind the scenes look at where the making happens. This session focused on the way relationships between people, culture and country can be conveyed through works of art, including animation. Participants had an opportunity to view rarely seen animations in AGSA's collection and heard from the artists about how they bring their stories to life with the use of static works of art, sound, audio and a camera.
Educators were then shown some simple ways they too could create their own animation and spent some time bringing their own story to life.
Dennis Golding - January 2022
- Curator talk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curator Nici Cumpston Assistant Director and Artistic Programs Dr. Lisa Slade.
- Using artists as a starting point flow chart responding to the work of Christian Thompson and activity with Education Coordinator, Kylie Neagle.
- Artist talk and workshop with Gamilaraay / Kamilaroi artist Dennis Golding.
Are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists making political art?
In some ways, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is political because each artwork is an expression of continuing existence and belonging to place after invasion. Some artists explicitly reference histories and realities of violence and oppression toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and/or the land, or challenge stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
In this session educators left the Gallery with greater insight into Dennis Golding's art practice who explores ideas around resilience and identity, and practical strategies for helping their students respond to First Nation's art in a meaningful and culturally appropriate way.
After a tour of AGSA's permanent collection and Tarnanthi teachers took part in a hands-on and strategies-based session where they used our 'using artists as a starting point' flowchart to respond the work of Bidjara artist Christian Thomson. Participants created their own wearable work of art inspired by a flower or plant that represented who they are.
Dennis Golding delivered an insightful artist talk and facilitated a workshop centred around power, resilience and identity. Each educator created a bedazzling design for a cape that represented their identity or cultural background.
Everything was very well timed for each learning experience. I enjoyed how the extensive information provided allows us to enter at our current knowledge/experience level.
Teagan Cowlishaw - April 2021
- Curator talk with Assistant Director, Artistic Programs Dr. Lisa Slade featuring video content prepared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curator Nici Cumpston
- Using artists as a starting point flow chart responding to the work of Lola Greeno activity with Education team, Kylie Neagle and Thomas Readett
- Collaborative mural design activity with Ngarrindjeri artist Thomas Readett
- Artist and designer talk and workshop with Bardi fashion designer Teagan Cowlishaw
What materials do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists use? The answer is simply, all materials - including: natural pigment as well as synthetic polymer paint on eucalyptus bark, canvas and composition board; sculptures made from various materials including wood, glass and fibre; ceramics; photography; video art; street art; printmaking and textiles. In this session teachers were introduced to a variety of works of art which were used as prompts to explore art making with an emphasis on design.
Using the 'artists as a starting point' flowchart, teachers were guided through an appropriate method for responding Lola Greeno's shell necklace. Educators considered the main themes and concepts in the artist's work and made connections between these ideas and the world of their students, resulting in a variety of potential activities that responded appropriately to Greeno's work. Using only cardboard, teachers then created a patterned neck piece or body adornment that was inspired by the place where they live.
Working in collaboration with other artists was a major theme of this workshop. Ngarrindjeri artist Thomas Readett gave insight into the design process when working with fellow artists Mankitya Cook and Elizabeth Close. Earlier in the year, Readett, Close and Cook completed a mural for the Adelaide City Council in honour of South Australian reggae band No Fixed Address. Readett discussed the challenges of working on such a large scale in a small space and uniting three artists' styles into one cohesive piece. Teachers were provided with a brief to design a lane way mural for AGSA that references art history and would lead visitors to the northern entrance.
Teagan Cowlishaw delivered an artist talk, sharing stories about her early days of working as an artist on canvas, to today working as a designer and running her own fashion label Aarli. Cowlishaw discussed the importance of working in collaboration with other artists and designers and revealed that the opportunity to work as a producer at the Darwin Art Fair in 2019 for Country to Couture was a major career highlight. Passionate about sustainability, Cowlishaw shared strategies she is implementing within her own business to ensure the carbon footprint of her garments is minimal, including biodegradable packaging and up-cycling materials wherever possible. With this idea at the forefront, teachers up-cycled a t-shirt they brought from home, transforming it into a tote bag using a knotting technique and embellishing their new bag with a painted design of their choice.
Thomas Readett - September 2020
- Mark making session with Education team, Kylie Neagle and Thomas Readett
- Curator talk with Assistant Director, Artistic Programs Dr. Lisa Slade and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curator Nici Cumpston
- In-conversation with Nici Cumpston and Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara artist Elizabeth Close
- Mark making and portraiture workshop with Ngarrindjeri artist Thomas Readett
What is a dot? Teachers explored the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists by looking at a variety of examples from around the country. They were shown works of art by Indigenous and non-indigenous artists who use dots in their work. This session helped to frame a meaningful discussion around the problematic practice of children undertaking dot painting in their classrooms with little context or guidance from an Aboriginal artist. Teachers were shown alternative ways to teach children about artists who use dots (and other repeated marks) and were then asked to create a unique tool that made a repeated mark. With an emphasis on design thinking and mark making, teachers would be able to adapt this lesson to any year level and weave in specific artists as a starting point for children to respond to, rather than mimic.
“In my studio practice, I often use dots as a means of conveying movement in my work; to speak to the organic and undulating nature of and connection to Country. I also use large dots in both my studio and large scale public arts practices to convey both that sense of energy that reflects relationships with Country, but also a sense of community and connection. I draw from the use of dots that stretches back far far beyond the 1970’s on canvas and boards, to the traditional use of dots as body-markings and the paintings on caves and artefacts - I use these dots as a vessel from which to speak to Connection to Culture; a connection that has been broken and disrupted and is being pieced back together dot by dot." - Elizabeth Close
Thomas Readett delivered an artist talk about his painting practice, both on canvas and large scale murals. Readett facilitated a hands-on workshop that responded to elements of his practice which included mark making and high levels of experimentation with oil, acrylic and spray paint. Teachers were asked to bring an object which had sentimental value which they then painted onto a canvas using a monochromatic palette. Readett encouraged teachers to consider the types of marks made for their backgrounds and the connection these had to the depiction of their object.
Jacob Boehme and Brian Robinson - October 2019
- Fire Talk with Narangga and Kaurna artist, artistic director of dance, theatre and ceremony Jacob Boehme
- Workshop with Kala Lagaw Ya/Wuthathi artist Brian Robinson
- Curator talk with Assistant Director, Artistic Programs Dr. Lisa Slade
Fire Talk is a ‘talking circle’ that engages visitors in critical conversations about art on display at Tarnanthi at the Gallery. Participants go beyond personal opinion and a thumbs-up/thumbs-down verdict by developing shared meaning and a deeper relationship to the work of art they have viewed.
Robinson grew up on Waiben (Thursday Island) in the Torres Strait with Maluyligal and Wuthathi cultural heritage. He is a multi-skilled contemporary artist, working in diverse media, including printmaking, sculpture and public art.
Teachers participated in a Fire Talk led by Jacob Boehme before taking part in a hands on printmaking Workshop Brian Robinson. Participants were encouraged to recall memories from their childhood that could be translated into a limo design using pattern and repetition.
Jacob Boheme and Elizabeth Close - October 2019
- Narangga and Kaurna artist, artistic director of dance, theatre and ceremony Jacob Boehme
- Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara artist Elizabeth Close
- Curator talk with Assistant Director, Artistic Programs Dr. Lisa Slade
- Kaurna Language session with Kira Bain.
With a 20 year history working in Cultural Maintenance, Research & Revival of traditional dance with Elders and youth from urban to remote Indigenous communities across Australia, Jacob combines dance, puppetry and playwriting to create multi-disciplinary theatre, dance and ceremony for stage, screen, large-scale public events and festivals.
Elizabeth’s work reflects her experience of personal growth and her journey of rediscovery and re-connection with her Aboriginality. In recent years, Elizabeth has been creating large scale public art in mural form and has over 20 large scale commissioned murals across the Adelaide CBD. She has also recently returned from France, having collaborated with James Cochran, aka Jimmy C, to create a water themed mural in Cherbourg, Normandy.
Teachers participated in a 'Story telling through moment' workshop with Jacob as well as a hands-on workshop exploring place, home and mark making with Elizabeth.
This workshop was an amazing teacher PD that I’d recommend to any art or classroom teacher working in Australian schools. The whole day was structured in a thoughtful and inclusive manner, covering visual and performing arts as well as language...
Ali Baker and Jonathan Jones - July 2019
Using the Gallery’s collection, teachers extended their knowledge of the diverse cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their experiences before, during and after European colonisation and the progress towards recognition and equality.
This workshop featured a presentation from Mirning artist and academic Ali Baker and artist talk and workshop Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones which focused on key themes in Jones' work - history, place, pattern making and memory. The activity teachers took part in was designed by Jones' and made reference to these themes. Teachers were shown how to respond to Jones’ work (without creating a copy), instead incorporating their own personal connection to place.
Grace Lillian Lee - October 2018
Artist and designer Grace Lillian Lee uses fashion and accessories to represent her diverse cultural heritage. Her mother is of German, Danish and English descent, while her father was born on Thursday Island to a Chinese father (a pearl diver) and a Torres Strait Islander mother. Lee uses fashion and adornment to represent her diverse cultural heritage, whilst being inspired by the beauty of the ocean and the Great Barrier Reef. Lee has become known for her wearable interpretations of Torres Strait Island weaving techniques, known as prawn-weaving. Swapping the traditional palm leaf for pre-dyed cotton webbing, Lee pushes the boundaries of traditional techniques to create layered woven body sculptures and accessories. By bringing such techniques into the contexts of both art and fashion Lee has engaged a wide audience allowing her to develop a successful business based on woven accessories, celebrating and exploring her lineage.
In this workshop Lee shared her story with teachers and highlighted her passion for collaboration in the arts and fashion industry. Teachers responded to a variety of music and worked collaboratively to create a fabric design which was later divided between the group.
This is the best professional development session I have done in a long time. Anyone wanting to learn how to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives easily across the curriculum must do this PD.
|Alfred Lowe, Arrentre people
|Juanella McKenzie, Adnyamathanha and Luritja people
|Thea Perkins, Arrernte and Kalkadoon people
|Dennis Golding, Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay people
|Yarrenyty Arltere art centre visit (online) featuring Marlene Rubuntja, Western Arrernte/Arrernte people
|Tangentyere Art Centre Visit (online) featuring Nunga Marjorie Williams, Western Arrernte people
|Teagan Cowlishaw, Nyikina, Bardi and Nyul Nyul people
|April Phillips, Wiradjuri people
|Tom Readett, Ngarrindjeri and Arrente people
|Elizabeth Close, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people
|Brian Robinson, Kala Lagaw Ya and Wuthathi people
|Jacob Boehme, Narangga and Kaurna people
|Ali Baker, Mirning people
|Jonathan Jones, Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi people
|Darren Siwes, Ngalkban people
|Kira Bain, Ngarrindjeri people
|Raymond Zada, Barkindji people
|Grace Lillian Lee, Meriam Mir people
AGSA’s education programs are supported by the Government of South Australia through the Department for Education.
Tarnanthi is presented in partnership with BHP and with the support of the Government of South Australia.