Creative arts graduates reach their zenith

Annual art exhibition captures how pandemic has impacted the lives of students

How UOW's creative arts students are bringing their experiences to life.

“What is Zenith?” I ask.

 “Zenith can mean a couple of things,” says Dr Boni Cairncross, a lecturer in Contemporary Arts at the University of Wollongong (UOW).

“It can be an Astronomy term, meaning the point on the celestial sphere vertically above a given position. Or it also means the highest point.”

Dr Cairncross is looking at the artworks on display in the 2020 UOW Creative Arts Graduate Art Exhibition, titled “Zenith”.

Creative arts graduate Hayley Carrick in front of her artwork in the show Zenith. Photo: Paul Jones

Hayley Carrick.

Through the corridors and art spaces of UOW’s Building 25, the exhibition features a range of creative, conceptual and material processes: textiles, sculpture, photography, painting, video and installation. It is a vivid and eclectic display, bursting with colour.

The art show is a significant moment for the final year students and marks a transition from undergraduate studies to deploying their practical, creative and technical abilities in the real world.

"There really is some standout work from these students. They are really pushing artistic boundaries,” says Dr Cairncross, as she points out a selection of clay sculptures arranged on a hallway wall.

Nora Al-katify’s work of scrunched up newspaper, covered in clay, investigates the themes of identity, memory and culture. 

“My artwork looks at interrelation between cultures,” Nora says. “I used the clay because of its stability and permanence. However, it can also be easily dissolvable and fragile. The use of newspaper draws attention to language, comprehension and the influence of media.”

Creative arts graduate Damien Martin with his artwork in the show Zenith. Photo: Paul Jones

Damien Martin.

Like a lot of the fantastic pieces presented here, there is a bigger narrative going on behind the art and the artists themselves.

“My parents are Iraqi, I was born here in Australia, yet when I visit relatives in Iraq I’m not recognised as from Iraq? And when I come back to Australia I feel I’m not recognised as Australian. This is the point I’m trying to explain in my artwork. That foundational question: who am I?”

In a large corner of the corridor hangs a multi-coloured, textile sculptural form, made from cotton thread rope, branches, wire with weaves of macramé and mixed media materials. Caution & Curiosity is the work of student Hayley Carrick.

“This year has been particularly hard on me, and this piece captures my psyche and is a narrative of anxiety through the process of making,” explains Hayley, showing off the different materials making up the skeletal figure that faces us.

“For me, this sculpture is an ever-changing mirror that explores the depths of our collective awareness.”

Creative arts graduate Nova Tucker in front of her artwork in the show Zenith. Photo: Paul Jones

Nova Tucker.

For artists such as Nova Tucker, the year that was has meant revisiting good times of the past to create a new art for the future.

“My collection of photographs, diary entries and drawings are from a pool of memories that reflects, celebrates and commemorates adolescence,” Nora says.  

Nova presents images from another time, from the not-too-distant past, when COVID-19 lockdowns had not shut down local pubs, clubs and band venues. She has used the memories to investigate her connections, relationships and personal interests.

“Plans got thrown out the window when COVID hit. But it did make me rethink my future by looking at my past.”

Creative arts graduate Celeste Reid in front of her artwork in the show Zenith. Photo: Paul Jones

Celeste Reid.

And it seems that the pandemic was on the mind of quite a few artists in this exhibition. Walking around the art pieces, there are a number works that require no questions because they speak for themselves.

The New Normal, is a collection of lockdown-hoarded pantry items made of clay. 

A photographic series called The Return is based around the theme of society’s emergence from the pandemic. 

A huge soft sculpture dog called Duey explores childhood toys and new connections that we form when in times of need. 

Creative arts graduate Ali Orlowski in front of her artwork in the show Zenith. Photo: Paul Jones

Ally Orlowski. 

Colour is Strange captures the viewer with a series of street portraits in black and white, depicting the grey negatively impacted on the world and imprinted dullness to our lives and perceptions during COVID. 

The exhibition as a whole has something for anyone who enjoys viewing art.

If “Zenith” is to mean a celestial sphere vertically above a given position, then this group of artists are well and truly on their way to reaching for the stars.