Senior Girramay artist Philip Denham, Image: Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre

My remote workshop experience

by Nephi Denham

COVID-19 has put a stop to our artists being able to attend and create at the Girringun Art Centre. This has impacted all of us, even the workers, and has brought to light just how important it is for our artists to continue creating and painting for future exhibitions.

Two weeks prior to the first COVID-19 lockdown, Edwina Circuitt was working with us on the Belonging workshops. One of the new materials Edwina showed us was plywood boards cut into a few different sizes. Our artists loved working on these, so the manager sourced more boards for our remote workshops when we had to close down for a while.

As we only have a small team and we all live in different places away from the Girringun Art Centre, we had to come up with a plan for remote working. We had meetings and talked about who lived closest to which artists in Ingham, Murray Upper, Tully, Mission Beach and Davidson Road areas. We put paints in smaller tubs and gave these out to our artists, along with a range of boards and canvases. I had the honour of looking after 11 of our artists that lived in Tully, Mission Beach and the Davidson Road area.

In the lead up to CIAF, I visited the artists every week keeping to the strict hygiene rules, remembering why these remote workshops were being held. I would give out paint and paint brushes, and boards and canvases,and keep records of who had what and what sizes. It was important our artists could keep creating artworks for our upcoming exhibitions like CIAF and DAAF that were still going ahead in a digital form. These visits provided a great opportunity for me to have a yarn with our artists outside of the workshops. The best part of one of my visits to Mission Beach was having damper with jam and a coffee with Aunty Cherie Mooner, who is one of our emerging artists and continually likes to say, “I can’t paint”, but has created two of the most beautiful paintings for this years’ CIAF theme of Climate Change. One of these paintings show the beauty of her country, and the other, human pollution and waste. It was great to be able to mentor her along with Senior Djiru Artist, Leonard Andy. Some days, not only would I facilitate art, but I’d also help with other jobs such as driving artists home from town or collecting string bark for string making with my father, Senior Girramay Artist Philip Denham. We would also look for materials to make Bagu with Jiman. It felt wonderful to see how everyone was going each week, being able to stock them with more materials, and to see and collect newly created works.

We are all finding it hard to cope with COVID-19 and how it has affected our ability to develop and create new artworks and submit them on time. Our small team met again to discuss ways to keep our artists motivated from home like they usually are in the studio. We developed a series of questions to help our artists develop concepts around thetheme of Climate Change. When I went back the following week to meet our artists, we talked about the questions and I wrote down their answers for them. They told me amazing stories of the Country, the observations they have made of climate change and how unhappy they are about the changes that have happened. It has been a challenging time but looking back on what our artists have created and achieved, I am fortunate to have had this experience. I feel like the Girringun remote workshops have been a great success and I looking forward to continuing visits to our artists every week.

These visits provided a great opportunity for me to have a yarn with our artists outside of the workshops.

Nephi Denham

Main image credit: Senior Girramay artist Philip Denham, Image: Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre

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