I recently attended an event where I had the chance to view the beautiful artwork of artists John Kelly and Rena Shein. As part of the event, I also had the opportunity to participate in a nest and egg clay-making workshop, which was a wonderful experience. It was inspiring to see how art can be used as a way to bring people together, share stories, and preserve cultural practices.
John Kelly, an Elder from Dunghutti (Kempsey area where I grew up), paints and draws stories from his culture, and works to share his knowledge through mentorships with youth and schools. Rena Shein, a multidisciplinary artist based in Sydney, creates transformative spaces that explore the power of art making as a collective action of remembering, exchange, and healing.
The collaboration between these two artists resulted in the project Nyanghan nyinda me you, which included a series of participatory experiences with children from Dalaigur Preschool and their families. The project started with a group of men with cultural connection to Kelly harvesting the bark of a stringybark eucalypt to create a bark canoe. The local community then participated in a rope making demonstration to complete the vessel.
In addition to the canoe making, Shein led a clay-making workshop with the children and their teachers, where they created nests and eggs inspired by Kelly's Dunghutti story of the King of the Birds. The finished canoe, dried and sealed, was then used to house the clay eggs and nests created by the community. The bark cloth that was stitched together to create the vessel represents the collaboration between Shein and Kelly.