The project has been on-going for several months and there's been vast amounts of work taking place which has led up to the creation of some of the pieces in the exhibition. I've been working with five classes - year 2 to year 4 and Julie Wise, another artist who works at the school has worked with the Year 5 and year 6 classes.
The children I've worked with have explored the issues around Protest Art from many angles and they have decided both what they wanted to protest about and what they wanted to create. I aim always to work in a very child-centred way and with ideas and materials that will enable children to explore their own ideas, thoughts and imaginations in a myriad of ways.
So I don't go into a project with an idea already in my head of what we're going to make - and very often there will be no "product", though in this particular project the aim was to make things that would enable the children's voices about their world to become visible. I took lots of starting points in with me to all the initial sessions with each class and as a whole class we explored our ideas and looked at what grabbed us. Then over the following weeks each class explored their ideas in different ways - this included the creation of three films (two of which are stop frame animations), a series of protest peg dolls, a flock of about 300 protest badges, protest cup cakes, poems, many little books, a protest hand waving machine and handmade paper scrolls containing natural treasures.
The children care deeply about the world and have very profound thoughts about a host of issues that affect them and affect the wider world. They wanted to protest about war, about injustice, about litter and damage to nature and about unfairness.
The exhibition is housed in a huge room at NUAST, the new school building which has recently opened on a site really close to Dunkirk and overlooking the school Discovery Garden. The staff at NUAST have been wonderful in welcoming us and helping with hosting and staging the exhibition. Its brilliant to be able to put all the work in such a new space - the room really feels like a gallery space and it means the children's work is given extra significance, gravitas and sophistication through being placed in a space like this.
Whilst we wanted the exhibition to contain pieces that would stand alone it felt vital that there was also a significant amount of documentation of the process and quotes from the children - and visitors to the exhibition really spend a lot of time looking at all of this. The children's words are incredibly poignant and I think it puts even more emphasis on the work they have created.
“I think that instead of having money people should have happiness” y4
“we could send our thoughts around the world so people will see them” y2
“they are sad – because some of the graves are their uncles and brothers and sons” (talking of his drawing) y2
“I think people who make weapons want to destroy the world” y2
I think the work in the exhibition also illustrates that projects like this can't just happen in isolation - that it needs to be a whole school approach to working with children in a creative and questioning way. The children care (and know) so much about nature and litter because they are working outside with us all the time and we run forest school and outdoor education sessions with all year groups throughout the year. We don't shy away from dealing with complicated issues; all the literacy, numeracy and other key areas of the curriculum look at the whole school themes in lots of ways that mean children are asking questions such as "we do wars happen?", "what does power mean?" and "why do countries have weapons?". Staff at the school are really enthusiastic about working in this way and about researching issues with the children. There is a huge amount of hands-on, tactile learning that takes place across the school, both inside and outside the classroom. For examples when Oak Class (year 2) wanted to investigate litter and the harm it can cause to the environment we went off on a litter pick and used time-lapse cameras to record the class collecting litter - and we spent a lot of time examining what had been collected and thinking about why it might be there.
I try and document projects with as much depth as I can - and again this needs to be done by a whole set of people, not just one person. We keep journals in each class where adults and children note down thoughts and ideas during projects and this means we can then accurately quote the children's thoughts and observations. the quotes I've put into the Protest Art exhibition are from the children and taken during sessions - so they have either been things said in whole class discussions or they will be comments made by children as they are working.
There's some incredibly poignant words and I've been really touched by the children's thoughts. Many of the children at school come from many different countries and when we look at issues like war, this is never an abstract thing as we have families in school who have direct experience of conflict and it brings a deep, sad and poignant aspect to discussions. Its a reminder that the school is just a tiny part of being in the "real world" and that things learnt in school should enable children to explore the world in which they live and to look at what being an active citizen means. I think they all learn a huge amount from each other and from learning about the first hand experiences each of them have.
“you could spread the message around the world” y2
“It makes me feel sad because people throw litter” y2
“stop the war, it makes people upset” y2
“be who you are – don’t change into someone else”
“I want to make LOTS of copies of my posters and put them inj places where people make guns and stop them” y2
“I have family in Egypt and there’s a war there and I want it to stop, I don’t want them hurt” y2
“When they are holding hands, it looks like they are making a wish” y4 (looking at protest images
"its not fair if people drop litter” y2
“we could sell cupcakes for charity – but instead of money, people could give us seeds and we can plant them” y3
“if we could get the whole of Dunkirk involved, that would be awesome” y3
“we can make little cards telling people what we want and so they can think about it” y3
“we need to show people what protest is” y3
“don’t kill animals – they don’t do anything to you” y3
"its sad if the birds die” y2
“If I was a litter man I would pick up all the litter” y2
"We should put posters around to tell people not to drop litter” y2