A vibrant new mural that celebrates harmony and diversity now flanks a classroom at Kogarah High School thanks to the collaborative effort of students, arts organisations, and the Settlement and Community Services Program at Advance Diversity Services (ADS).
Launched in late November, the mural is part of ADS’s Faith-in-Action Project, which aims to build resilience and foster faith- and non-faith-based understanding in the St George and Sutherland Shire areas.
Youth-led arts cooperative, Shopfront Arts Co-Op, worked with Kogarah High School students over several months to explore themes of welcome, and religious, cultural and linguistic diversity.
It immersed students in creative activities to help them to understand how to translate these themes into visual designs.
Hannah Grant, Shopfront’s Director of Socially-Engaged Programs, designed the project with Advance Diversity Services.
“Kogarah High School’s Principal was interested in having a new mural at the school, and the Faith-In-Action project seemed like the perfect fit for this," she said.
“We worked with the students across a whole term of conceptualising and devising, exploring how to visually represent themes of welcome and diversity, and create a lasting impact on the school through the artwork. We explored colours, symbols (like flags and words), used photography, and the students brought in objects which represent them, their families and cultural heritage to work with, which became key motifs in the mural.”
Anthony Jones from Urban Art Australia came on board for the final design process and to lead the group in painting the mural.
Together, they harnessed the things most important to the young people of Kogarah High and captured them in the brightly coloured mural, which features a black and a white hand holding a globe (with Australia depicted in the centre), and linked “beads” that resemble the prayer beads used by people of various faiths throughout Australia, including a button-shaped bead that bears the colours of the Aboriginal flag.
Anthony (aka AYJAY) is known for his rainbow-coloured style of vector imagery and for his pivotal role in the movement to energise the Illawarra and other regions through the incorporation of street-art murals.
The Kogarah High School mural was one more step in realising this dream and AYJAY said he’d enjoyed a “ripper of a time” painting and chatting with the students.
“We have been collaborating with the kids of Kogarah High School and the superstars at Shopfront Arts Co-Op—with this mural being the final product of all our hard work. You are looking at the collective effort of some very creative kids,” he said.
Anthony Scerri, from ADS’s Settlement and Community Services Program, agreed that the collaboration had been extremely positive.
“A project like this gives young people in our region the chance to explore their beliefs and attitudes, to listen to the perspectives of others, and to express their hopes for a more harmonious world,” he said.
“It’s out there, really—and it’s brave: Firstly, these students have to mull over what they believe themselves and in the context of their families. Then they have to express it within the group. And finally they have to paint it on a wall—so their classmates and their community can see what they think and respond.”
ADS received funding from Settlement Services International via the NSW Settlement Partnership Innovation Fund to mount the project.
“This funding helped ADS to pursue what has been an extremely creative project, and one which we knew would help us to foster conversation, cohesion and diversity within the Australian community,” said Mr Scerri.
“The mural is an important first step in the Faith-in-Action Project. Happily, there are several projects in the pipeline—so there are more opportunities in the future for us to make a difference.”