The Weekend Australian - Review
Sarah Guttie, Children aren’t Happy Being Home Alone (1997). Collection Dr Barbara Piscitelli AM Children’s Art Archive, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. On display in the exhibition Big Voices: Children’s Art Matters, State Library, Brisbane, until July 5.
About 35 years ago Barbara Piscitelli began using art to talk to children about their world, the people and places they valued, and their fears and hopes for the future. Since then she has collected more than 2000 artworks by children from Australia, China and Vietnam. These young artists have painted joyous scenes of childhood, but they also have painted their concerns about subjects such as domestic violence, child exploitation and the environment.
Piscitelli says of the work in the collection most children portray their childhood as a happy, playful place but, she adds, these children are not afraid of depicting “the hard topics either”. “They have depicted these horrendous images that nobody ever wants to see. I find it really amazing that children under 12 years old have these ideas in their minds and that they can express them in drawing and painting, which I think is a very important outlet for them. And the opportunity is for us not to turn our face against it but to turn our gaze upon it and to engage with them in a healthy way to talk about these ideas.”
In 2005 Piscitelli’s Children’s Art Archive was donated to the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane and now more than 70 of those artworks are on display in the exhibition Big Voices: Children’s Art Matters. One of the works on display is a watercolour, pen and ink drawing by six-year-old Sarah Guttie, titled Children aren’t Happy Being Home Alone.
At the library, exhibition curator Stella Read says this artwork is powerful and “clearly shows the capacity for children to understand big and important concepts and communicate them through art. It shows us the insight we can gain when we talk with children about their world.”
Guttie’s drawing was created in 1997 as part of the Children Have Rights project undertaken by Piscitelli and her colleagues. In workshops led by educators and artists, children were introduced to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, where they talked about their rights and the different experience of rights that children have all over the world. Following these discussions, children were invited to create artworks that reflected their most valued rights.
Read says that she comes to this artwork already understanding the importance of safe environments for children. “Yet in looking at this artwork I experience this idea anew with a heightened sense of anxiety and urgency. In this artwork the sun is coloured over in black, the trees could be on fire, painted over in red. The simple line drawing and brown wash of the house appear to provide no protection against the pink and black drama that rages around it. With simple black line Sarah Guttie has drawn the child in the house sad, alone, and crying. This artwork adds new depth to my understanding of what it could feel like to be vulnerable, unsafe and exposed.”