Creative high school exhibits Easter cross
Douglas Purnell is curator of the Stations of the Cross exhibition in Sydney and Canberra. If Douglas has an objective for the exhibition, it is to start conversations based on the artworks and the artists who contribute to it. As an Easter reflection about the way the Christ story can shed contemporary light — in an age where the meaning of this incredible event is slowly leaching out of societal thinking — the Stations of the Cross exhibition is some sort of “existential prayer”.
By creatively engaging with the iconic points in Christ’s journey to the cross and his resurrection, the exhibition can help people symbolically take part in that journey. As such, it is a powerful reminder of the relevance of the message of Christ.
Of the many artists who have contributed to the exhibition since it began, they all bring their unique stories and backgrounds to the ways they interpret the stations of Christ’s journey to the cross.
“When you walk this journey and engage with the artwork. you experience both the story of the station and the story of the artist,” says Douglas.
“Station Number Two is done by Saif Almarayati and he was born in Iraq, was a refugee in Syria, and is culturally a Muslim. He came to Australia as a 13-year-old. These artworks always touch peoples’ lived experience, and will move people.
“We asked Shirley Purdie, who is an Aboriginal woman from the Warnum community, to do Station 16,” adds Douglas, about one of the new stations which his exhibition has included this year. “Shirley had won the Blake Religious Prize in 2007 for her work titled Stations of the Cross.
“Station 16 became known as Jesus Comes to Warnum Today, so this station has been introduced to demonstrate how Jesus is present in the world today.
“If we can set up an environment where people walk the walk of Jesus and have a conversation about what that means in their life, that’s what I’m about.”
Students engaged in the story of the cross
Northmead Uniting Church had a close relationship with the principal of Northmead Creative and Performing Arts High School, who offered a purpose-built space to feature the Stations of the Cross exhibition.
When she was approached by Northmead Uniting Church about the exhibition, principal Narelle Vazquez admitted she was neither a Christian nor knew anything about the Stations of the Cross. But she agreed to host it: “I don’t know much about art but this is a good idea. I know a good idea when I see it.”
“I was a bit surprised that a secular high school took on an exhibition about the Stations of the Cross,” explains Douglas of the unique relationship that began. “I discovered there were a few teachers of the school who were of serious faith. They bring children through the exhibition and they have no hesitation explaining the artwork and the religious dimensions within it.
“We are taking national and international artists into the school and we worked with the school to build a gallery space in the school.”
Responses have been universally positive, with people noting that in order to see the calibre of art on display, they would normally need to go to the Art Gallery of NSW.
Douglas also gives tours to the school students, giving them information about the art and artists. During this process, he has found that there is room for delving into the meaning and significance of the story of Christ.
“Alongside these tours, the space for deeper conversation opens up with the students,” says Doug of the experience of showing students through the Stations of the Cross exhibition.
The high school has been so happy with the response from both students and the community it has also committed to hosting the exhibition for, at least, the next five years.