Student artworks adorn Newtown ArtSeat

NSW public schools have celebrated Refugee Week in various ways, from a new art installation, to a book celebrating refugee families. Pascal Adolphe and Sven Wright report.

Students and adults sitting and standing on a seat. Students and adults sitting and standing on a seat.
Image: Photos of the 'Intersection' quilt, which features artworks by students at Ashfield Public, are being displayed on the Newtown ArtSeat.

An award-winning quilt created by Ashfield Public students for Refugee Week 2023 is now part of a new art installation in Newtown.

To celebrate Refugee Week last year, students from Kindergarten to Year 6 – 504 in all – each created a small, unique artwork that was printed onto fabric tiles and then sewn together to form a 13-metre-long patchwork quilt.

This year, a series of photographs of the quilt were converted into a giant poster adorning the Newtown ArtSeat, which will remain there until September.

The ArtSeat has become a Newtown landmark. It is managed by the Inner West Council and showcases experimental, non-commercial art.

Ashfield Public School’s Artist in Residence, Karen Manning, designed the Intersection quilt, which features images woven with text to reflect and honour the refugee and migrant ‘journey’, as well as the themes of compassion, empathy and human connection.

The quilt was inspired by the beloved children’s book ‘My Two Blankets’ by Irena Kobold and Freya Blackwood, which has been translated into 21 languages and won a picture book prize in 2015.

It is a story of friendship between two young girls: one a local, the other, a newly arrived refugee girl in an unfamiliar environment learning a new language.

Ms Kobold was moved to tears when she saw the NewtownArt Seat displaying the artwork inspired by her book.

“I’ve seen a photograph of this but seeing it with my own eyes, it’s a dream to see what I have created has reached so many people,” she said.

Ms Manning said the quilt was the latest in yearly “collaborative” art projects to which all Ashfield Public School students contributed.

“Every year, we do a whole school collaborative artwork, so every single student participates. We’ve been doing them since 2018,” Ms Manning said.

“Each of the artworks is anchored to a children’s book because it’s a really nice way to introduce these really big topics, and sometimes very difficult topics, to students in a really safe, familiar context of having a book read to them. There’s such a comfort with that.

“The artwork was originally displayed at Refugee Week last year and then it ended up going on to win the Hidden Rookwood Schools award at Rookwood Cemetery.

“I then had a series of these photographs taken and they were just meant to be there to have a document of the work, but the photos were so beautiful that I applied to the Inner West Council Newtown ArtSeat, and we got it.”

A giant quilt in a hall. A giant quilt in a hall.
Image: The giant quilt featuring artwork by students at Ashfield Public School.

Student authors show strength, resilience and unity

Jesmond Public School marked Refugee Week 2024 and the theme ‘Finding Freedom: Family’ with the production of a book featuring stories from refugee students.

Students reflected on their personal journeys and the importance of family using their own words and pictures.

Kindergarten to Year 2 students created artworks of their families, years 3 and 4 students wrote poems about their home countries, and years 5 and 6 students wrote about their journeys to Australia.

Assistant Principal Rachelle Douglas said the stories reflected the strength, resilience and unity of the school’s refugee families.

“All of the students who feature in our book are either refugees or come from refugee-like backgrounds. Refugee students make up about half our enrolment,” she said.

“We’re so proud of our students who've had the courage to share their stories with us.”

In addition to the book, years 5 and 6 students wrote scripts to interview each other about their refugee experiences.

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