Creative Self Portraiture

Self Portrait Creativity Activity
The Exploration of Self

Gallery of Mannequins

Year 12 students at LaTrobe Secondary College are currently studying a text by Archie Weller. 'Going Home' provides an explicit picture of life for indigenous Australians. From the outset the reader is left in no doubt that, not only is the individual indigenous Australian the subject of brutal racial slurs, but that their people have, as a group, been systematically marginalized and victimized. 'Going Home' paints a grim portrait of life for many Australians and the reader is left in no doubt that the average person needs far more than shining armor if they are to retain their self esteem and flourish in this environment.

In order to understand how an individual can protect their spirit in this situation, to come to a greater appreciation of just how important indigenous belief systems become in this appalling situation, we began the Creative Armory Project.

During the 16th Century the craft of armor making reached a peak with armorers not only producing amours for war but elaborate ones for parades. All the armors were carefully designed to give as much protection as possible. The shape and surfaces were planned to deflect a blow. Pieces that covered the head and chest were thicker than the back plate where there was less danger of serious injury.

Creative armory draws on the principles of this timeless art. In this project the object is to protect the fragile creative spirit from attack by disparaging forces. However, in this project we draw upon a range of materials to defend and keep would be assailants out. Our armory has the power to protect the creative spirit from almost any siege. In modern society this seems a priceless gift.

Creative Armory Project
Year 12 English
LaTrobe Secondary College


Making Armour - A General Outline

Buy a plastic molded store dummy for around $15. You can buy male or female models. Ours are just like these, except they include a hanger.
Given that armory was designed to provide as much protection as possible consider what you need to protect, nourish or shield your creative spirit.
Brainstorm and write down some of the things that you could use to 'dress' this model to represent what will protect you. Consider what you turn to when you are under siege? Think about the things that sustain you.
Check out and find out what sort of protection other people have developed.
Try the exercises below. Keep sketching and making notes.
Hang your model where you can see it and look at it often.
Begin to gather the 'clothing' and 'armory'.
Surround yourself with magazines, materials, glue, scissors, beads, baubles.
Visit recycled shops and gather interesting buttons or buckles, beads and bric a brac. Let your imagination run wild!
Consider all possibilities! HAVE FUN WITH YOUR MANNEQUIN and if family and friends look at you strangely laugh and tell them you need the armory to protect yourself from their conservatism.
Document the process and record how your ideas about armory change during this project.

Taking Arms

'Take Arms' we said as the mannequins were distributed amongst the Year 12 student body. Naked without identity the mannequins were claimed by students with the task of expressing that which will give them the strength and protection needed as they undergo the battle that is life. The mannequins nudity was confronting enough.

Many students felt compelled to 'dress' them for the journey home. The idea of accompanying a naked mannequin revealed a host of inhibitions and vulnerabilities, vulnerabilities that must be shielded and protected if they are to survive in our world. The act of carrying a mannequin put them in the spotlight as fellow passengers looked on with curious puzzlement.

'Naked without identity!' Claiming the bodies and giving expression to that part of themselves that can endure the drought, the storms, the inevitable crisis, grief and loss is a fundamental step. Not since they rose to their feet and courageously took their first step will they have made such a plunge into a new world. Innocently they stand by the crossroad, ready to discover a new path - a path that leads within, to the world of the subconscious.

My own work, participating alongside others in just such a project, provided a personal milestone. Since undergoing this 'rite of passage' I have a renewed sense that my strength is sourced within a deep root system. I now know that my legs are well grounded, with roots tapping far enough within fertile soil for me to find the nutrients I need during the tough times. Discovering this was one of those defining moments. I am proud of the warrior who emerged as I took arms and created an Amazonian figure who now lives within my writing space. She is a source of inspiration!

You can join us and begin by brainstorming in your journal. Think about what you will do when you take the plunge and bring home a mannequin who, until armed, will remain naked without identity. How will you arm your mannequin to meet the challenges of life? How will you protect your creative spirit?

Claiming Identity

The following is an extract from a student who is recording the process being undertaken for the Year 12 Creative Armory Project

"Today we had English. Heather took the opportunity to take all of the Year 12's to the library. We sat in the class area, all wondering what we had done wrong. It turned out that she wanted to get our minds thinking, wanted to get us started with our mannequins.

Heather explained the situation of being in concentration camps like those described in 'Night', a book written by Ellie Wiesel. We had to make a list of things we would take from home if our neighborhood was being cleared out. On my list I had
* Paper and Pen
* Discman and C.D's
* My Clarinet
* My red glittery jacket
* Jeans

We were then asked to describe how we would feel in a small confined place with lots of people. We had to look around and note what was happening to everyone. Guards came around to collect things of any value, such as jewelry and electricals. They took away my discman. I lost a lot less than others.

Now it was time to hop on to the bus to be transported further away. No bags were allowed just stuff that fits in our pockets and clothes that were on us. I was now left with the clothes on me, wishfully thinking that my paper and pen would fit in my pocket.

Once we got to the concentration camps we were split up from our families and friends. Usually this process left the girls going one way and the boys the other. Most of the time we were left with people who we did not know very well. However, we might find that our neighbors, a teacher or our brothers footy coach was there too - all in the same situation.

Then it was time for a shower. We were told that we had to strip down to nothing, leaving everything behind. When we came out of the shower we were left to put on something that covers everything that is necessary. Every single one of us look exactly the same. No one has more power than the others. So what is it now that gets me through all this? Knowing that I have memories of the past, the support of a few of the people who I know and the knowledge that everyone is in the same situation helps.

Lastly we are asked to think about what we would do if the guard came in selecting more people to take away. "Where are you going to stand so that you are not the chosen one?"we were asked.

Personally I know I would want to go and hide in a corner but I figure I will be noticed more so I decided that in the middle of the crowd, just blending in and doing what they are doing. Then we are asked how we would feel if were in there for months even years. What would our thoughts be? How would we keep going? I decided that keeping positive and just knowing that I'll be out of there soon could help.

Then we had to consider how to express this on our mannequin. By the end of this task I had more ideas for my mannequin. These included:
* Collect nice writing paper ~ I love to write it gets me through my tough times.
* Music ~ some how have music notes
* Dancing ~ collect material, sparkling things, sequins
* Mind ~ thinking something like a brain with little bubbles coming out for thoughts."

Communicating With Natural Forces
One Year 12 Student Describes The Process

When I first hear about this idea it seemed unreal, crazy even - talking to leaves in order to determine the meaning of life and how I should protect myself. However this exercise is not so much about actually getting the leaf to talk, but more about exploring deep within one's subconscious to find answers that were there all along.

To get started is hard at first - for many the idea of talking to a leaf is just too hard to grasp, too far outside the boundaries of normal thinking. But once you let go of your inhibitions it becomes hard to stop. The pen keeps moving and ideas you never thought you had appear. As the words flow you find yourself answering your own questions and you peel back the layers within.
Isobel 2002

Inside A Seashell - Finding Fresh Perspective

In this session students were introduced to the world of guided imageries. We filled the library and spread out comfortably. There was a buzz of anticipation as we waited for the Age reporter and photographer to arrive. Julie, the young reporter was glad to join the process.
Try it!

Close your eyes and relax. Try not to let any other thought enter your mind. It is a gorgeous balmy day and you are staying near the beach. With a beach towel over your shoulder you head across the sand-dunes towards the beach. You can hear the water crashing upon the rocks long before you arrive. A solitary seagull circles above. At the top of the last dune you stand, like a warrior surveying the scene. A pristine, empty beach lies in front of you. You are alone. You wander down to the waters edge and walk along the firm sand, letting the water run through your feet. Today you have come in search of seashells and flotsam and jetsam but the beach seems to have been swept clean. Near a rock pool you stop to look, hoping to find a shell caught in amongst the rocks. Sure enough there is a beautiful shell. As you pick it up and caress it with your fingers your eyes travel over its surface. Inexplicably you find yourself inside the shell. Listen to the sounds in this cavern. You hear a voice. Someone enters the cavern! When they ask you why you are here you blurt out that you need help arming your mannequin.

Write! Write for twenty minutes without stopping! Let whoever has entered the shell cavern advise you about how to complete this bewildering project.

Exploring Metaphors

Deciding how to dress our mannequins in such a way that we express inner strength has been a slow process. Today in class some students thought that they were not working because I gave a couple of 'graffiti artists' the freedom to draw on our white board. Chris drew an 'Arnie style' man and entertained us with ghetto blaster like sounds as he provided all the details. 'Arnie' represented a very physical man, a man whose physical strength was obvious to all. He was an archetypal figure we could all relate to.

When Chris had finished we looked at the facade and I posed the question of what the inside was like. Shane obliged and came out and spontaneously drew an anatomical representation of the inside. "Is that it? Are we just blood, muscles, organs, cells?" I asked.

Silence descended! Then the bell rang! With much clatter they were gone!

Sheila stayed back to talk to me, to wrestle with just how you adequately express that there is so much more than the physical. "When I think of myself I think of a well" I said. "What do you think of?" I asked.

"A river! The sky! They help me express something endless, help me to express infinity" she replied.

As our eyes met we knew that we had not only figured out how to begin dressing our mannequins we had found metaphors that enabled us to tell the world that we are filled with an infinite supply of strength. "

But I don't know how to express the idea of the well" I confessed.

"You could have a rope coming from around her neck, down to a well." Offered Sheila.

I squealed with pleasure. "Oohmygosh! Of course! I could get the guys over in welding to help me make a well out of ripple iron and attach it to the hips. Now all we need to do is figure out how you could be a river." Quite suddenly I was reminded of the river goddesses of ancient times and I suggested that we search and find out more about them. "You know Sheila, when you figure out how to do this and you actually dress her you will always know that you have unlimited resources to tap into!"

Our eyes met again! Yes! We both knew we had made a big step. We both knew that this was one of those rare defining moments when you gain self insight.

Try working with metaphors!

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