Art at the heart of Refugee Week

June 23, 2021

It was a colourful start to Refugee Week at Navitas English Fairfield on Monday with the launch of “Our Journey to Unity”, an innovative art project by the college’s youth class.

The collaborative project between Navitas and Fairfield City Council saw the students’ vibrant perspective drawings displayed at the college and in a public installation on the footpath at a prominent intersection in Fairfield’s CBD.

The artworks, created as a side project to English classes, represent places of cultural and emotional significance in the artists’ homelands and in Australia, and aim to reflect the experiences of new migrants and refugees.

Navitas English General Manager Jetinder Macfarlane said it was fitting to launch the project in Refugee Week, in the State’s refugee heartland of Fairfield, where Navitas has helped with the settlement of thousands of people over the past 25 years.

“I can’t think of a better place for us to all come together to celebrate the wonderful contribution refugees make to the arts, culture and our society,” Ms Macfarlane said.

“This is a not only a visual representation of the students’ new permanence in the area, it also helps to reinforce the importance of the rich stories behind the people who help make up this multicultural community – many of whom have indeed themselves once been students at Navitas.”

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Fairfield Youth Class students with Navitas staff at the site of their art display in Fairfield CBD>

The project launch was attended by the Member for Fairfield Guy Zangari, Fairfield City Council Place and Public Domain Planning Manager Tony Walker, stakeholders from STARTTS, FMI, SSI, CORE, MYAN NSW, KU, Navitas staff and students.

Mr Zangari said he was “humbled” to listen to the students express the sentiment behind their works and he has offered to proudly display them as an exhibition in his Fairfield office for a month later this year.

“I was fortunate enough to hear from the students themselves who told me their stories of hope, happiness and optimism,” Mr Zangari said.

“This program allowed young people to not only build their art skills but helped to develop the courage to speak with representatives, meet deadlines and work in collaboration with students and teachers. True learning happens when theory is put into practice, and that’s exactly what Navitas English Fairfield facilitated.”

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Fairfield MP Guy Zangari with Navitas youth students, Jetinder Macfarlane and Michael Cox.

Navitas English Youth Teacher Camilla Portela said the artworks helped to develop the students’ appreciation of art, their self-expression and self-confidence.

“Art became a medium for them to express and handle their emotions. It managed to soothe them, calm their thoughts and they even started to take it home because drawing made them feel good,” she said.

Navitas English Leaning Designer Rachel Chua said Refugee Week was the perfect opportunity to display the artworks which “share the message of hope and harmony”.

“Not only will the artwork have meaning to the students who create them, it will resonate with the wider Fairfield community, many of whom are also migrants, refugees, and former students of Navitas English,”
Ms Chua said.

Odette, a student originally from Syria, said her oil pastel work “Walking to the Dream” was “her very first artwork” and she was “very proud” of the project.

“I am happy because I love drawing,” she said.

“This is the first time I used the oil pastels. Now I enjoy waiting until my class is finished and coming to the youth classroom just to draw at the end of the day maybe 30 minutes with my teacher, just to relax.”

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Tony Walker from Fairfield Council with Guy Zangari, Basim Shamaon and Chen Zhou.

The artworks are now on display at the intersection of Smart St and Spencer St, Fairfield.

Refugee Week 2021 runs from Sunday, June 20 to Saturday, June 26.

This story on the project also featured in the Fairfield Champion: https://www.fairfieldchampion.com.au/story/7305266/journey-to-unity/​