15 February 2024

Illawarra's rising stars capture life's poetry in ARTEXPRESS 2024

| Dione David
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Kya Stwaski of Corpus Christi Catholic High School stands in front of her artworks at the Art Express exhibition

ARTEXPRESS 2024 exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, featuring Kya Stwaski, Corpus Christi Catholic High School, with her work When you were born. Photo: © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Mim Stirling.

Among 50 works selected from 8660 submissions for the ARTEXPRESS 2024 exhibition is a curious little collection of seemingly unremarkable moments in time, featuring people you’re unlikely to know.

The young artist behind the work, Corpus Christi Catholic High School student Kya Stwaski, won’t challenge this perception. The recreation in oil paint of photos from her family’s collection, entitled When you were born, is what it is.

“It’s just 13 pictures, scenes from our lives; some are old portraits, some are images of everyday moments. In one my uncle shares an embrace with my grandma after giving a speech on her birthday; there’s a picture of a very close family friend losing a game of Majong, one of my extended family crowding into the kitchen and some of my dad and me just playing,” she says.

“Part of the reason they were chosen is because there’s no grand significance as to why they were captured, other than they’re lovely moments that whoever was taking the photos felt were valuable enough to be kept.”

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Ironically, these “mundane moments” seem to have captured something universal. They’re not your moments, but they easily could be, and the nostalgia is palpable.

“It’s a bit of an exploration of memory and the sense of childhood wonder or joy you found in life when you were really young,” Kya says.

“Seeing what my family looked like in these little moments in time that we wouldn’t have paid attention to then, peering at them through the lens of hindsight, we see them so differently.

“Especially in the age of social media; it got me thinking about how we look at photos today – how often we take them for how people will see them, as opposed to simply taking pictures of things we like or moments we value.”

Collection of black and white photos by young artist Win Tub in ARTEXPRESS 2024 exhibition

The enigma in us by Win Tub of Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts is one of two works from young Illawarra artists currently on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the annual ARTEXPRESS exhibition. Photo: Robert Edwards.

Along with Win Tub of Wollongong High School, whose work The enigma in us is described as “a raw exploration of adolescence and emotions”, Kya is one of two students in the Illawarra who made the cut for the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ annual showcase of outstanding student artworks developed for the art-making component of the HSC examination in visual arts last year.

The exhibition includes works across all expressive forms of the HSC visual arts curriculum. It charts a breadth of topics impacting young Australians, revealing common themes of identity, family, cultural heritage, place and home.

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This year’s exhibiting students join an impressive cohort of former exhibitors including Ben Quilty (1991), David Griggs (1994), Jasper Knight (1997), Julie Fragar (1995), Tom Polo (2002), Bhenji Ra (2009) and Louise Zhang (2009).

Kya says it’s an honour to be counted among them.

“I’ve been to that exhibition many times; I never thought I’d ever see my own artwork there. When I was nominated, I thought just that was out of this world,” she says.

“I am not normally the type to get excited outwardly, but I think my hands were shaking when I got the news I would be included.”

ARTEXPRESS 2024 is open until Sunday 21 April at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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