In her second blog this week on community arts projects, graphic memorist Wallis Eates talks about the school and charity collaboration she was involved in that saw Year 9 students recreating the stories of girls across the Commonwealth who had been helped to complete a secondary school education by the charity now known as the Commonwealth Countries League Education Fund.
Eates is a self-publishing comics artist and a shortlisted creator in last year’s prestigious Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition who has featured here in ‘Small Pressganged’ a number of times this year. Her zines Fleeting Faces and You Chew I Spew have both been reviewed in this column and earlier in the year I spoke to her about her distinctive style of autobio comics and her work with memories in a comprehensive two-part interview here. You can read her first blog in this series yesterday about taking comics out to the community in Romford here…
Above and below – the story of Amunthini from Sri Lanka
In May and June of this year, I was fortunate enough to be involved in two consecutive community arts projects and I snapped up both opportunities to engage participants in the medium of comics…
SCHOOL AND CHARITY COLLABORATION
Following from the Romford residency, I delivered a three-day workshop to a group of Year 9 students in a secondary girls’ school, Eltham Hill, as part of a project called ‘6 Artists for 6 Schools’ lead by an organisation called Artreach. This group advertised on the Artsjobs website, inviting artists to register interest to work with a school in collaboration with a community group. I was fortunate to be shortlisted and invited to pitch an idea to work with the only school that weren’t partnered up with a community group as such, but a charity. The charity was called 1000 Schools for 1000 Girls, but has since changed its name to the Commonwealth Countries League Education Fund (CCLEF).
The CCLEF raises funds via partnership schools to sponsor girls who live in commonwealth countries to complete a secondary school education in the face of various barriers. Such barriers can be because of a natural catastrophe, living in a war zone, being the sole family carer when parents have died, not having enough for tuition fees, uniform or books, or simply through the gender inequality perpetuated in social and cultural beliefs.
I pitched an idea that would use the medium of comics to connect the girls in Eltham with girls who had benefited from the CCLEF scheme, whereby the former would depict experiences of the latter in a visual narrative. The aim being to produce a collectively made book (eventually called Lifelines) that outlines and illustrates the various obstacles the girls from the commonwealth face, and how the charity has helped them.
The tale of Pui Pui from Samoa
The intended outcomes were the option that the CCLEF could use this book as a means to raise awareness with a positive message should they so wish, the beneficiaries would have their voices heard, and the students would learn more deeply about the charity and the experiences of others via prolonged engagement and visualisation that requires empathy, as opposed to simply reading from an academic source or being told.
The pitch was accepted and I had my first meeting with the teachers involved. This was when I found out that the sessions were to be part of their textiles class to gain an Artsmark award. Temporarily fazed, as I have never used textiles to create a comic myself, I quickly readjusted seeing it as a learning opportunity for me, reminding myself that one of the many exciting things about comics is that they can actually be rendered in a variety of media. And, I have to say, I really enjoyed being surrounded by fabrics and mannequins for three days!
It also gave way to some great ideas for marrying technique and content visualisation such as tie-dying to create the image of a cyclone. Panelling was still used throughout, as well as speech and thought bubbles, and I added text onto the pieces afterward using Photoshop, but it would have been good to have more time to really allow the comics medium to take hold over more sheets of fabric to fully explore some of the narrative ‘threads’. Sorry about that pun.
An account by Shenniel in Grenada turned into comics
Ideally, I would have like to have been able to contact some of the girls who had benefited from the charity to give us stories specifically for this project, but unfortunately this was not possible in the time frame available. However, my contact from the charity, Charles Harper, was immensely supportive and helpful, and he led me in the direction of case studies that the students could then read and visually interpret.
I was impressed with how sensitively the Eltham girls handled the stories, and I was intrigued by their tendency to focus in on the gratitude expressed by the beneficiaries! Owing to some of the comments made, and quotes from their Artsmark award evaluation, I know the students enjoyed the project, and that they found it exciting to have an artist work with them and to learn about the medium of comics.
Ellen from Ghana’s circumstances told in graphic narrative form
I would have liked to have learned more about the impact that working in this way had on their learning and engagement with the subject matter, but this I think is something I need to do going forward with further projects where I can manage more, and give input to evaluation methods.
Both of these projects offered a tremendous amount of learning in terms of delivery and collaboration, and I am left wanting to explore yet further ways to get voices heard by drawing (or sewing). Particularly the aspect of encouraging others to draw the stories of others, as I think this can be a very powerful experience in connecting lives and could offer mutual benefit to many.
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