Generation Visual (GenV for short) is a primary school programme that uses art to open up conversations about culture, identity and community. It was developed by Kristen Harrison at The Curved House and educator Dee Mulrooney at Wangari Maathai International School in Berlin, with the kind support of BegaSchule Berlin.
The first pilot programme ran over 10 weeks in 2020. In this time, students at Wangari Maathai International School engaged with critical analysis of art, developed visual literacy skills, learnt about a diverse group of contemporary artists and strengthened communication, listening and empathy.
The lessons were based around three contemporary artists, each chosen for their approach to making work, their artistic thinking and their influences which we felt would greatly inspire students. Using videos, artworks and specific creative tasks, students engaged deeply with their work while exploring a range of ideas around culture, identity and prejudice.
We started with the work of Adébayo Bolaji and the theme of “Play”. Students watched a video of the artist discussing his play-based approach and how he finds his connection to his artwork by allowing himself to be in the moment, moving and making. Adébayo has a very physical approach, walking around his canvas or standing over it to paint from above, so we ran a series of activities that got students playing and creating in this way.
After a Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) session discussing a portrait of an Egyptian god by Adébayo, called “Graffiti”, students developed their own portraits of Egyptian gods. These sessions were very freeing and fun but they also allowed for more serious themes to emerge such as how we depict each other and ourselves and how those depictions might emerge from history (like the Egyptian tomb paintings) to tell alternate stories.
In the second module, Joanna Kidney‘s work encouraged the students to create a connection with their environment, found or even mundane objects and each other. Joanna created a studio visit video to show students where she worked and describe the process of creating a work. Joanna’s work takes often ordinary objects and turns them into extraordinary artworks and this aspect sparked conversation around the meaning of things. Students developed empathy by creating works that included objects that were precious to someone they knew (e.g. a parent, sibling or friend) and talked about respecting things that may not appear to hold value, but are intrinsically valuable to someone else.
In the final module students looked at the work of Irish artist and prop designer, Ebun Oladeru, whose brilliant spoken word poem More Blacks, More Dogs, More Irish talks about black Irish history, racism and the prejudice Ebun faced growing up in inner-city Dublin. Ebun created a video for students introducing them to the idea of “Artivism” (using art as a form of activism) and set them the task of creating a work that expresses something big about a cause or issue they feel passionate about.
Visual Thinking Strategies
The programme is grounded in Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a model for talking about art developed by Abigail Houson and Philip Yenawine. This well-established model enabled open and organic dialogue and helped to establish a safe space for conversations that might otherwise be difficult or intimidating.
Gen V in 2022: Focus on Climate Change
Thanks to Dee Mulrooney and Wangari Maathai International School, we have received further funding to develop an extension of Generation Visual for the school, with a focus on climate change action. Stay tuned for more as we develop Gen V 2.0.
Exploring found objects in the environment