Last week we held our first community workshop in preparation for the Welcome Wall project taking place this Australia Day. In partnership with the Parramatta Council and Muralisto, Welcome Studio brought refugees and artists together for a day of storytelling, brainstorming, designing and tea drinking to plan six collaborative murals of welcome that will be painted in the streets of Parramatta next month.
The workshop took place at the Information and Cultural Exchange hub (ICE) in Parramatta on a classic blistering hot Saturday, where the heat visibly wobbled off the road outside. The invitation to participate was open, anyone part of the refugee community was welcome to come down be part of the design process. We waited nervously for the first guest and wondered if maybe we weren’t as cool as our invitation might have suggested. The trepidation was short lived however, as a crowd of creatively inclined refugees from all areas and backgrounds soon strolled in, coffee mugs in hand, to enthusiastically meet with artists and organisers.
The day started with an acknowledgement of traditional indigenous land and an introduction from Muralisto founders Zoe, Xander and Josie. They outlined the core mission of the Welcome Wall project.
"These walls will stand as a crossing-point between cultures, a message to our communities that to be Australian is to be part of many nationalities, backgrounds and histories."
It’s a message that is soley needed in this country, and one that is sometimes lost in the patriotic bordering on racist celebrations of Australia Day. This positive message of belonging could take any form - and it was up to us to decide how to incorporate it into a mural.
Katherine and Joel from Welcome Studio then lead an interactive icebreaker, which had us artistically “speed dating” each other with quickly drawn portraits of members of the group. It was here that the refugee guests, many of whom are established artists themselves, started to relax and enjoy the workshop, and in some cases, completely outshine the sketching abilities of the artist facilitators themselves.
After another essential tea and coffee break, we split into three groups to brainstorm mural ideas, with each group of refugees working with two artists to guide the creative process. What followed was two hours of scribbling, laughing, papercutting, glue-stick-flying magic as we teased out ideas onto large pieces of butchers paper. Indian women shared traditional artistic techniques with spray painters, an Iraqi portraitist imagined his sketches into a new mural-sized potential and Philippine and Iranian teenagers channelled the power of Beyonce into a message of female unity. The transition of a melting pot of ideas and stories into visual piece was inspirational to see, and the positive energy in the air was tangible.
"Walls of communication were broken down and friendships formed as visions came together to realise six distinct mural designs."
A delicious lunch was provided by Welcome Feast, a social enterprise catering company run by the House of Welcome, where all chefs are people from refugee communities or people seeking asylum. We then presented our designs to the group to rounds of laughter and applause. Business cards were exchanged, coffee dates were promised, and we exited back into the baking summer heat with our arms full of designs and silly grins across our faces. Everyone involved, whether refugee or artist or both, felt completely rejuvenated by the positive teamwork and creative collaboration that had taken place.
The collaborative designs now sit with our artists, who will present the designs next month and then paint the murals with their refugee team in the weeks leading up to Australia Day, as well our Welcome Walls event taking place on Australia Day on the 26th of Janurary.
We’d like to extend a huge thanks to the refugee community who came down to be a part of the workshop, as well as Muralisto, the Parramatta Council, *Welcome Lunch* and of course, all the artists who volunteered their Saturday to make this workshop happen.
Stay tuned for more updates on the #welcomewalls project.