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Workshops allows students to explore their visual art expressions

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Boys wear summer sleeves, The guinea pig is rustling, Poetry is Art That was

The Royal Gazette's struggling attempt at a Japanese haiku after sitting in on a Bermuda National Gallery (BNG) creative writing workshop with poet Donna Bell.

The week of workshops titled ‘Inner Expressions Through History' was attended by 250 students of all ages from schools across the Island. The aim was to give students and teachers a week of experiencing and exploring a variety of writing genre using the BNG's exhibitions as inspiration. A few of the topics explored were poetry and movement, creative writing through history, black spirituals, art with a social message and art-inspired haiku.

Students from Victor Scott Primary and Paget Primary, took the workshop with Donna Bell in the Watlington Room which houses the BNG's European collection. Faces in some imposing historical portraits looked down from the walls, but Ms Bell had brought along a guinea pig and fish to lighten the mood and provide inspiration.

Ms Bell started out by reading the students a haiku poem by Matsuo Basho a Japanese poet who lived 1644 to 1694: Old pond, a frog leaps in, waters sound.

“Basho was the son of a warrior,” Ms Bell said. “Four hundred years ago, poets were the Beyonces of the day.”

For some reason the reference to popular singer didn't impress this particular crowd of nine and ten-year-olds. Ms Bell asked the students about their favourite movie star. One little boy piped up that his favourite was Jackie Chan.

She wrote the Basho poem in Japanese characters for the students, and had them say it in Japanese, which they enjoyed. She explained that most haikus had a seasonable element in one of the three lines. There also had to be five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five again in the third. (Mr Basho's poem didn't necessarily subscribe to this number of syllables because it had been translated into English).

She worked with the students to put together a haiku as a group. It began with the line, Pittbull is swimming.

In the next room, artist Calix Smith conducted another workshop with older students from the Berkeley Institute and Somersfield Academy about the use of art to make social commentary.The BNG had made an effort to pair private and public school groups together in an effort to create a bridge between the students.

Mr Smith's workshop was conducted in the shadows of a retrospective exhibition of artist Will Collieson's work. Mr Smith showed students a number of slides by artists such as Chinese conceptual artist Ai Wei Wei and Damien Hirst, one of the wealthiest artists in Britain. Students were shown animals in formaldehyde, a large middle finger pointed at the White House in Washington DC and a cutaway of a pregnant woman designed to show the workings of the body inside and out. Mr Smith also showed them some of his own artwork, which often used words to convey a message.

“Art is more than a pretty picture,” he told the students. “It can be about stepping outside of your own comfort zone to make a statement.”

He talked with students about how he used his art to comment on topics such as the increasing gun violence in the community, and also local politics.

‘My piece ‘Us are We Them are They' is about the United Bermuda Party (UBP) and the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) and how we need to come together to make a better people,” he said.

One student asked whether art was misinterpreted by viewers.

“That happens all the time,” said Mr Smith, admitting that this could be a frustration for conceptual artists. “As an artist, for the most part, you just have to accept it.”

After his talk, students were given paper and art materials and invited to make their own artwork. Mr Smith hoped to use the students' artwork in a future collaborative piece to be put on exhibition.

Some other facilitators who taught workshops at the BNG during the week included historian Ruth Thomas, author Cha'Von Clarke, poet Jane Downing, artist Alan Smith, Bermuda College music professor Ru-Zelda Severin and the Chewstick Collaborative.

“This week, visitors to the gallery may have heard the scratching of pencils across fresh notebook paper, child-like voices singing or the strum of a vibrant guitar,” said BNG education officer Joanne Ball-Burgess.

“Some of the workshops gave students an opportunity to explore their own visual art expressions. We believe that through these combined experiences our children have grown in their love for writing and their appreciation for art. History comes to life when we are presented with objects from that time period and given the opportunity to create new meanings around those objects through a variety of mediums. The BNG wishes to thank all of the teachers for bringing their students to the workshops. Let's continue to inspire our world with art.”

Victor Scott students get some inspiration for their Japanese haiku poetry from Donna Bell's guinea pig.
Victor Scott students check out some small animals including this guinea pig at the National Gallery during a writing workshop that had them writing haiku poetry.

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Published March 03, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 03, 2011 at 8:54 am)

Workshops allows students to explore their visual art expressions

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