As part of BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art Creativity Day, I was invited by BALTIC LEARN to deliver Biro drawing workshops to around 120 Year 4 children from Wardley Primary School, Blaydon West Primary School, Cedars Academy, Gateshead, and Christ Church Primary School, North Shields for a new artwork I am creating in BALTIC Learning Lounge.
BALTIC studio space prepared for workshops and Learning Lounge
My workshops were inspired by Animalesque exhibition and part of my Where Did All the Animals Go? art and environmental education project in partnership with Born Free. Chimpanzee Community mural is in response to dazzling and thought-provoking artworks Degreecoordinates, Shared Traits of the Hominini (Humans, Bonobos and Chimpanzees) by Marcus Coates and Untitled 1972 – 2011 collage-drawings mural by Mary Beth Edelson.
Untitled drawing-collage, Mary Beth Edelson
The aim of my mural, which features the children's drawings, is to highlight the fact that chimpanzees and bonobos are our closest living relatives sharing 99% of our DNA and as Marcus Coates artwork symbolises, all hominini species share similar behaviour traits.
CPD Session at BALTIC
Prior to the workshops, I met with teachers from each school for a CPD session at BALTIC with Amanda McMahon of BALTIC LEARN. I delivered a 30-minute practical Biro drawing session giving teachers the opportunity to create drawings of Northumbrian wildlife for my Wild Postcard Gallery.
For my Chimpanzee Community workshop presentations, children learned about chimpanzee facts, threats, how to help wildlife and viewed a short film of BBC Earth Baby Chimp Rescue featuring Liberia Chimpanzee Protection.
After the presentations, we got down to drawing chimps! The number of children who produced drawings for the mural mirrors the population of a typical chimpanzee community. I gave each child a different chimpanzee to draw and encouraged them to express through their drawings that like humans, chimpanzees cradle their infants, hug, smile, laugh, play, fight, get angry, get sad and mourn their loved ones.
Each child’s unique drawing style communicates the individuality of each chimpanzee depicted. I asked children to sign their first name next to their drawing, reaffirming that each of us no matter our species, is an individual being that lives our life according to our needs.
Drawing of baby chimpanzee eating fruit by Summer
Through the beauty of childart and individual children's Biro drawings inspired by individual chimpanzees engaged in shared everyday activities/expressions, I also hope the mural will create emotional connections leading to compassion for and further conservation of chimpanzee species.
In order to create the mural, I scanned every drawing, printed each drawing on recycled T-shirt transfer paper, ironed the prints onto fabric then individually cut out each image. This process is intended to visually echo Mary Beth Edelson's mural. I then printed off and cut out draft copies of each drawing and placed them on my studio floor to work out the layout of the mural.
I began installing the mural on 20 March in BALTIC's Learning Lounge. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the gallery was shut to the public. It was a peaceful experience installing the mural in BALTIC and a privilege to work with the children's priceless drawings of our closest living relatives, drawings of which I am so proud!
Despite the gallery being closed, art felt alive and well that day, alongside BALTIC's kittiwake colony, a reminder in these uncertain times that art and nature are one of the most precious silver linings we have.
Sadly, I was unable to return on 23 March to complete the installation of Chimpanzee Community due to the gallery closing to keep staff and artists safe at home. However, I am looking forward to the day this magnificent gallery opens its doors again and I can finish the artwork! Here's a sneak peek of work so far! These little chimps will be left alone now to play in BALTIC's Learning Lounge.
My hope is that life imitates art and during this time nature thrives, that sage words like those of David Attenborough 'if we damage the natural world we damage ourselves' are more widely understood and that we learn from inspirational and kind humans like those of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue to become more selfless and appreciate nature's beauty and its vital importance to all of us.
Creating a lasting memorial to those lives already lost to the COVID-19 Pandemic as well as future generations by addressing the trade and consumption of wildlife and the destruction of their habitats, which not only affects the environment but is doubtless the origin of diseases such as COVID-19, is imperative. It couldn't be more urgent that a global ban on wildlife trade is enforced not only to save wildlife but to reduce the risk of future pandemics.
A huge thank you to BALTIC for the opportunity to make this artwork with such talented children - can't wait to finish the mural!
Meanwhile, exciting things are going on behind the scenes of this extension project to my Where Did All the Animals Go? art and environmental education project.
Baby Chimpanzee Laughing at his Brother 2020 Biro drawing, Harry