In November 2013, Big hART were invited to present the Namatjira theatre show, which sold out at London’s Southbank Centre. Big hART’s Namatjira project has been working in the Central Australian desert since 2009, on a capacity building cultural project aimed at bringing new opportunities and benefits to this family and community. While in London performing the show, artists and staff from Big hART took a day out to conduct watercolour workshops with Stepping Stones School.

Cecily Hardy, Associate Producer of Big hART’s Namatjira Project spoke to COINS Foundation with her personal account of the workshops:

I don't think any of us realised how much impact the students from Stepping Stones would have on all of us at Big hART. We had the opportunity to visit the school and conduct watercolour painting workshops with two classes, bringing with us the famous Aboriginal Australian watercolour artists Lenie and Kevin Namatjira and introduced the students to the delicate world of creating watercolour landscapes.

Cecily Hardy

The atmosphere was lively and relaxed at the same time. Both painting sessions were filled with warmth, intellect, humour, enthusiasm, encouragement, experimentation, expressionism, and some healthy frustration! It was a pleasure to be in the company of every single one of these impressive young people, as they created their own landscapes inspired dually by the distant deserts of Central Australia and the features they know of their own landscape, like the Devil’s Punch Bowl in Hindhead, Surrey.

These students made a lasting impression on the artists and our team. Lenie Namatjira, who speaks both English and her first language Western Aranda, pulled me aside as we sat at the Cookie Bar, and said, “These are good kids. They listen to me. They used their heart to paint.” This is high accolade indeed; Lenie has conducted similar workshops with hundreds of participants all over Australia since 2009, when she started working with the Namatjira Project to tell the story of her iconic grandfather and painter Albert Namatjira. Lenie could see something exceptional in these young people from Stepping Stones School, and so could we – and I’m not just saying that.

Community Producer Carmen, who helped conduct the workshops, and I tried to pinpoint what it was that was so special about these young people. We deduced that it was two things; the palpable sense of respect these students have for each other – their peers – and the sense of self-confidence and respect they seem to hold for themselves as individuals. This meant that apart from initial whispers of shyness, paintbrushes were picked up quickly and were prised from many hands at the end.

There were many memorable paintings, colours, and moments from the day, but my favourite has to be this: Harry sat carefully sketching a gum tree in pencil, and as others moved on to colour and water, Harry was still patiently creating the trunk of his tree. At the end of the session, when others had finished whole landscapes, Harry sat with his tree unfinished. Having worked with many kids, I was cautious of what Toby might be going to say as he sidled up to Harry’s tree. I shouldn’t have worried, and rather I was amazed, as Toby said, “Harry that is actually a really beautiful tree. You’ve done that tree really well,” to which Harry said in equally matter of fact manner, “Thanks”. This summed up for us. It was a beautiful day, which comes through in the students’ paintings. We look forward to seeing more of their works.

COINS is pleased to be able to lend its support to such an impressive arts and social justice organisation and look forward to developing our partnership.