September 08, 2014

Old Walls to New Ways

Special note: This post was written as a freelance piece for Form and has also been published on their website. I am very excited to have worked with Form and look forward to collaborating with them again in the future. Please visit Form's website if you'd like to find out more about their projects and how you can support them. Being a not-for-profit organisation, support from the public is essential to continue transforming our city with these amazing work of art! 

To take the most basic and simplistic view of art, it gives you something to look at. As with almost all things in life, not everything can be reduced down to such simple terms. While art most certainly engages your visual sense, it can also call upon your mind and your emotions. It can make you think. It can inspire and it can motivate. In the case of the many works of street and public art that can be found all over Perth, it's often more than just a colourfully painted mural or an interesting installation. It can be using a many metres high and wide wall as a means from which to shout a message about society, and it can also be an investment in people and communities. An investment which says we see the worth, value and potential in this community and its people.

When you look at the 100 Hampton Road project, this couldn't be more true. Originally used as the nursing quarters of Fremantle Hospital, in recent years this high rise building has become a lodging house providing entry level accommodation for up to 190 people. In a joint project undertaken by Form and Foundation Housing, a steady stream of work has taken place over recent months to transform this non descript and somewhat tired looking building into something that its residents can look at with pride in calling this place their home.

To date, artists 2501, Anya Brock, Jaz, Lucas Grogan and Maya Hayuk have painted murals on some of the interior and exterior walls and just last week Amok Island, a Fremantle local himself, set to work on the most visible exterior fa├žade of the building. A perfect match to the port city, Amok Island's design is an impressively imposing seahorse painted in bright colours evoking fun times spent at the seaside and beach. Specifically a tiger snout seahorse which is found only around the central coast of Western Australia, it took the artist just a little over three days to complete the entire mural. Given the sheer size of this lovely creature, that's not a bad effort at all.


Part of the design includes the addition of the sargassum seaweed which the seahorses hold onto when in the water and can be sometimes found living within. The artist specifically incorporated this into the design as it was the perfect symbol to represent an anchoring holdfast and a home.

It is impossible to ignore the grand size of this mural. The size of this wall and the task at hand was a challenge that Amok Island was keen to tackle, and the visual effect of seeing this majestic creature looking down on you is both stunning and captivating. When asked what he would like for people to take away from his mural, Amok Island replied that the seahorse itself represents a hidden beauty. As beautiful as they are, they are not always easy to find and to spot, so to see the beauty of a seahorse it requires some effort on the part of the person looking for it. 

Chatting with some of the residents of 100 Hampton while Amok Island was busy painting mid air, it came as no surprise that they were happy to see the newest piece of art going up on their walls. I certainly wouldn't object to any of these artists coming around to my home to do the same. Speaking with them and also the building manager, it was glaringly obvious that those living here are for all intents and purposes, people just wanting to live their lives and do the best that they can for themselves, just as you or I do. The residents here are some of the most vulnerable in our community, with many having coming through difficult circumstances. While the context of their lives may be vastly different to my own, ultimately we're all the same people wanting the same things; a safe and secure place that we can call home, the feeling of community and to be valued and included members of society.

There are common negative stereotypes and generalisations when people think and speak of the disadvantaged within our society. A huge part of this project is centred around engaging the residents, in doing so helping them to develop a sense of home and to feel more comfortable with where they live and their fellow residents, and also increasing the community engagement by shattering the stereotypes that often accompany this type of housing. For the person not looking hard enough amongst the seaweed, they miss out on finding the beauty of a seahorse. Similarly, there's always so much more than meets the eye, beyond the brown brick walls and much more to who you think a person is based upon their present circumstances.

Developing and revitalising 100 Hampton Road by way of this investment in public art sends this message in very clear and large terms that there definitely is always more than what we see at first glance. It's more than this repurposed high rise block of flats. It's more than the people who call it and the city of Fremantle home. It's about bringing together a community, strengthening relationships between people and opening up the channels of communication to have those essential conversations about how we can make this place we live in even better and how we can provide help to the people who need it the most. By using art to start the conversation, the first steps are taken in establishing these relationships between the residents of 100 Hampton Road and the greater community. It all starts with engaging one person, and from there who knows where you can go and what you can achieve? 

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