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Amazing kids exhibition pitches it right first time

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Review: ‘Animaze; Amazing Animals for Kids’ ⋅
Fremantle Arts Centre, November 24 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

Visiting the Fremantle Arts Centre’s latest exhibition was like touring Aladdin’s cave; room after room filled with artistic riches that the four children I had in tow wanted to admire, touch, and try. Fortunately that’s exactly what is intended with Animaze: Amazing Art for Kids. Fremantle Arts Centre’s first exhibition designed specifically for children features the work of 50 artists and much of the work is interactive. You can time your visit to coincide with a sculpture or crotchet classes, story time, stroller tour or artist in residence session. Entry is free and even better you can pause part way for lunch at the cafe or a run under the trees.

Ross Potter demonstrates his shading pencil. Photo Rosalind Appleby

We started in the gallery where Ross Potter was working on a life-sized drawing of Tricia the elephant from Perth Zoo. Potter patiently answered questions and demonstrated how he used his toolbox of pencils and electric erasers to shade the enormous elephant with photographic accuracy. Then we were distracted for a good twenty minutes by the immersive joy of a room full of crochet. The Golden Wattle Hookers (Jill and Holly O’Meehan) have constructed a reef structure from brightly coloured wool art that climbs up walls, hangs from the roof and creates snuggly nooks.  It was the ultimate in tactile, sensory art and for several in my entourage this was the highlight, a place where they could hide, rest, and marvel.

Further treasures were uncovered down a hallway (via a 2-channel soundscape of frog and bird calls) where a dark room offered monster animal portraits (Austen Mengler) , shadow puppet opportunities and – by chance – the opportunity to become a work of art. It was perhaps not part of the original intention but my children – encouraged by the spirit of participation the exhibition had generated – discovered they were also illuminated by the UV light in Anna Nazzari’s aquarium: “My shirt has become seaweed!” my five year old exulted.

There was so much to see and do: Joe Ong’s intricate 10 metre pen drawing of 460 animals caused us to pause in wonder; the animated numbat images scurrying across a wall invited whole-body participation and there was wallpaper to colour and pom-poms to stick on a giraffe.

And then there were the bean bags scattered everywhere to collapse in. It was during one such chill-stop that we noticed the Cicada series on a wall.  “I like Shaun Tan’s work,” the nine year old in our party recognised it with delight. “It’s unorthodox. He draws weird things that aren’t normal. They are grey and sad but there is always something bright in there that the story is about.”

Shadow puppets invite a spirit of participation. Photo Rosalind Appleby

It’s not hard to ignite the imagination of a child but they are also honest critics, not easily duped by adults dragging them through an ‘educational’ art experience. It is sheer delight when arts companies (as Fremantle Arts Centre have done) pitch it just right so that the children interact spontaneously. All four of my entourage voted Animaze a success. “I really like art,” said one. “I suck at it but I really like it and it was good to learn more”.

“The whole thing was important,” they concluded, “doing an exhibition for the first time ever just for kids.”

Animaze: Amazing Art for Kids continues until January 23. Visit the website for details of classes and artist in residence sessions.

Pictured top: Jill and Holly O’Meehan’s Neon Lagoon. Photo Rebecca Mansell.

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Rosalind Appleby

Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is a Perth-based arts journalist, author and speaker. She writes for The Australian newspaper, The Guardian and Opera magazine (London). She was music critic for The West Australian for 14 years (2002-2016). From 2012-2018 she operated the blog Noted, providing insights into the Perth arts scene.

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