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.

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...
Justine and Kym, teachers from Victoria

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.
Jess, Primary teacher participant
Full list of featured artists and educators
2020 April Phillips, Wiradjuri people
Tom Readett, Ngarrindjeri and Arrente people
2019 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
2018 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.