Indigenous creatives connect kids to Dharawal Country and culture
First Nations artist David Cragg’s artwork splashes vibrant, powerful and eye-catching colours across the walls of Verb Syndicate Art Gallery in Wollongong, NSW.
Soaking up attention, the enthralling art features birds that soar across and nest within Dharawal Country.
Mr Cragg is a multidisciplinary artist of Irish, Scottish and Bundjalung ancestry. He is a muralist, fine artist, designer, writer, builder, sculptor, photographer and youth/disability community worker – a real jack of all trades.
His exhibition at Verb Syndicate opened on September 12 and will remain available for viewing until January 11.
“It was very enjoyable watching it go up. I felt stressed leading up to it as I had a whole bunch of other projects that were chewing into the time but managed to pull it together,” he laughed.
Mr Cragg fell in love with creating from an early age, a passion supported by his mother.
“Mum was always so encouraging of whatever we wanted to do, when we went hard on the drawing and painting, she made sure we were picking it as our subjects. She got us into an [arts] high school [so] that we could focus on it,” he said.
“From that I really got my fingers in a whole bunch of honey pots … But I always came back to painting and drawing.”
Mr Cragg has a unique and contemporary style, one that boasts a mixture of neon colours that are softened and tangible.
“I’ve always been into the ‘60s psychedelic music and the fashion that came with it. I found that influenced a lot of the earlier stuff I made … my art went a bit dark after that, all the skulls, snakes and crossbones in my early 20s. But I’ve gone full circle back to those vibrant, dayglow colours.”
Mr Cragg’s exhibition ties in with his recent work with Gunai woman, children’s author, poet and creator, Kirli Saunders.
Ms Saunders and Mr Cragg connected through Red Room Poetry. The pair collaborated to deliver creative workshops in late October at local school, Port Kembla Public School, which sits on the edge of MM Beach.
“I really wanted to take a writing and art collaboration back to our local space and I’ve been living out in Port Kembla now for a bit over a year and every day I walk past this beach,” Ms Saunders said.
“I thought, I wonder what the kids think of this gorgeous landscape and I wonder what they feel about place making in this space, and what does it mean for them to take their words and ideas and transform their own physical space?”
Ms Saunders and Mr Cragg worked with 27 First Nations children to create poems and art that could be transferred onto a mural, painted by Cragg, on their school grounds.
“We led workshops where students responded to the local landscape, we sat out in the playground and looked over their beautiful MM Beach, and then spoke about the significance of Hill 60 and the five islands to them,” Ms Saunders said.
“We got to explore a bunch of birds from the area and then also did a simple landscape background for them which is the blueprint for the mural I’m working on now,” Mr Cragg added.
The workshops were assisted by teacher Jean-Anne Kidd.
“The kids loved the workshops and author talks. It was great to see our students so engaged and we were very proud of the poems they created,” Ms Kidd said.
“The feedback from the teachers has also been great, they found the author talks to be inspiring. We are so excited for the new mural being created by Dave and to have one of our students’ poems included in the artwork makes it so much more personal and special for us.”
Mr Cragg hopes this inspires students to have confidence in their creative abilities.
“It’s awesome seeing kids that maybe would not have had the confidence to do it being nurtured in an environment where they feel like they actually can express themselves and gaining the skill set to do it,” he said
“Also seeing us doing it as our careers, knowing that there is an end goal for doing it – not just for fun at school – there’s also a lifestyle.”
Both Mr Cragg and Ms Saunders hope to continue the program across the Illawarra.
“I would love to be able to continue the project … it was so rewarding with all of the workshops I’ve led this year, I’ve worked all over Australia and internationally as well but I think these projects close to home are the most important ones,” Ms Saunders said.
“If we can help more of our local kids … feel confident in themselves as writers and artists to self-express what is meaningful for them, then we are doing a good thing.”
By Rachael Knowles
Ms Saunders has provided extracts from students’ poems for NIT to publish:
The sun shone
The hill said
‘think about the things you can think about,
the stories that can be told.
The glowing rock formations
flowed through the wishing waves.
~ Will, Year 4.
The waves crashing
on the sand
and all I hear
is a song
in a language
I don’t know
and I try to sing along
and the song sends shivers
down my spine.
~ Randall, Year 6
The waves crash white,
the wind blows slow motion,
I feel the tiniest drops of sea-water,
the Ancestors want me to go swimming.
~ Latiyah, Year 5
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