2020 AEU SA SACE Art Show

Click on the artist slide above to view the artwork.
Click here to view the Winner of the Inaugural AEU SA SACE Art Prize - Whale by Samuel Greer.

Pandemic Portraiture

Curatorial Statement by Phoebe Gunn, AEU SA

On an annual basis, the AEU SA Branch has the pleasure of hosting some of SA’s finest student artists selected by the SACE Board for their achievements in year 12. A display of artworks created by public school students’ graces the walls of the AEU Main Hall on Greenhill Road, offering a visual respite from the battles fought at the coalface of public education. And providing a reminder that this is why we, as a Union, fight: so that every student has the opportunity to be educationally supported and encouraged to create and achieve their goals.

This year has been a little different. 

The AEU’s bustling event calendar, which would usually see hundreds of members congregating in the Main Hall to view the art works, has been adapted to a remote format - as we all have, thanks Zoom. Nonetheless, a collection hangs on the wall of the Main Hall, greeting staff as they move around the building. The 2020 collection sits alongside the experiences of this year, as we have been given pause to consider our identities within this hectic world. 

Portraiture is a power tool of exploration. Portraiture allows a subject to be examined through a creative medium and recreated as a visual icon. We need only look to the brevity of the Archibald Prize, Australia's most lauded award for visual arts, to view the incredible displays of humanity that abound from its entrants through the vessel of portraiture (and what a historical year the Archibald has seen in 2020, with both the Archibald and Packing Room prizes being awarded to Aboriginal artists for the first time). With limitless mediums and as the SACE collection exemplifies, despite being in the style of portraiture, each artwork stands independently as a representation of its subject, in their own right.

In the days before we all carried a high-tech camera in our pocket on a daily basis and selfies became a form of currency, the only way to record the appearance of someone was to create an image in their likeness. Not a photographic record capturing everything as it is, but a visual record created at the hands of another. Such an image captures more than just the physical features of a face, seeking to translate the essence of the character into a visual form. Reflecting the humanity of the portrait subject like a mirror against the humanity of the viewer.

Portraiture has been endlessly reinvented over centuries, and in this 2020 collection, we bear witness to future iterations. As we continually edge towards future versions of ourselves, we see the impact of visual imagery growing in the world around us, denoting the importance of visual art curricula for students.

Modern society is built on visual communication. Everyday we are bombarded with images telling us to buy things, eat things, see things, do things and as a result, we communicate visually. A deep understanding of this social currency is essential for a sophisticated workforce and yet arts education is continually devalued, evidenced by an ongoing lack of government support and funding. However, the attitude of governments past and present should not detract from the dedication and passion that is shown by teachers of the arts: their abilities and achievements as educators flourishing in the work of their students. This exhibition is a celebration of public educators’ hard work and commitment to the value of visual arts education.

There is evidence, internationally and domestically, indicating that learning embedded in the Arts results in overall better outcomes for students, intrinsically and interrelatedly, including cognitive, behavioural, health and social benefits as well as improved academic performance for students with low socioeconomic status (SES). And yet the disconnect remains. 

Some say there is an uneasy relationship between visual arts and traditional education: visual arts paling in comparison to the importance of core skills such as literacy and numeracy, especially given the emphasis placed on standardised testing. However, it cannot be denied that as the global economy turns toward cultural industries there is a growing necessity to develop the ability to interpret and critique imagery.

Visual art subjects accomplish something that often goes unnoticed in the age of standardised testing, offering students the opportunity to take an unbridled approach to their creativity and stream of consciousness; to think outside of a box that doesn’t really exist in the first place and to develop emotional intelligence as a result. Arts education improves confidence and sense of self-worth, empowerment and belonging. It plays a defining role in interpreting culture, heritage and society and challenges and transforms the ways we see, listen and comprehend. For evidence, we need only look to Australia’s First Nation peoples. The notion of art is central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, through the handing down of traditions, laws and spirit through stories, music and dance. Visual art is central to all aspects of culture and being.

The centrality of art to society cannot be denied; it is an invaluable element evidenced by the ongoing need for social transformation. It is time to rethink the pedagogical attitude toward visual arts as anything but a core component of learning. If future generations are to develop strong skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility, visual arts education must be built in to all aspects of educational learning.

And we see this in each of the works displayed in the AEU SA SACE Art Show 2020. Each artist has taken their view of the world around them, as it affects fragments of their identity, and broken it down in order to reinvent it as a visual work of art: a portrait of identity. They show immense courage through a willingness to openly display vulnerability – it is no easy task to create something from your heart and put it out for the world to critique. Art is confronting and these young artists have confronted their subject and the audience with aplomb. 

We are in good hands with such courageous, intelligent, conscientious and innovative young people at the helm of the future.


Education information used in this curatorial statement can be accessed here.