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Urban Campfires – stories shed light

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Dark or decorative, provocative or pretty, art has a way of tickling our minds and taking our fancy. This explains why there’s a gold painted tank in the entrance to our building.

A giant eye watches all who walk into the Neighbourhood Justice Centre. An intimate portrait of the window of the soul the eye, created in paint and oils by local artist Peter Seaton is emblematic of our latest art exhibition —aware, introspective, remembering.

Twice a year the NJC invites amateur and professional artists to take the chill from attending court and create a welcoming atmosphere for everyone who comes to our centre. Using everything from charcoal to oils each artwork in Urban Campfires tells a story — some stories reflect, some burn, and all shed light into our community.

Peter Seaton’s painting is a close up of his friend’s eye which, they stood on top of Mt Warning, caught the rise of the morning sun and with it he pays respect to the Aboriginal people upon whose land they stood.

As powerful, Amanda Wright’s striking portraits of young Aboriginal men and women speak of pride, grace, place and presence. Contemporary in style, her work evokes the beauty, strength and connections to place for the oldest living culture in the world.

Textile conservator, Elizabeth Pilvan describes her luminous hand-woven blanket as her “humble response” to the heritage of African textiles, and for the NJC her work is a tribute to the African women who call Collingwood home and come together at the centre.

Not all women come to the NJC to meet neighbours and friends. Our Magistrates’ Court hears domestic violence matters, and women use our secure rooms to meet their lawyers and breathe. Elizabeth Risman’s enchanting knitted nursery figures and the delightful collages created by the children of KiddyRock art collective and Port Phillip Specialist School are charming and whimsical but they play a subtle hand in making frightened, unhappy women feel a little better.

As companion pieces to the secure rooms, Pat O’Riley’s delicate watercolours and Willowview artists’ found object wall hangings soften the edges of our other small, private places where clients meet with lawyers and case workers. 

For the community groups, people receiving support, and anyone before the court art who are under the roof at any given time, art performs a clever sleight of hand in making tension and anxiety vanish. The work of the North Carlton Railway House and Collingwood House painting groups paint over the fact there’s even a court in this centre.

This exhibition includes t-shirts create by the survivors of domestic violence and their supporters for Week Without Violence, Richmond’s Five Towers Celebration Day, and Wheel Of Fate produced by Uprising Theatre and the Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House.

Now in its ninth year, Urban Campfires shows how any court can use art—particular art drawn from its local neighbourhood—to alleviate the tensions that typically accompanies the passage of justice.

And if there’s one thing that the gold tank proves, it’s that justice has a sense of humour. Created by artists Alice McNamara and Kelly Smith the toy-sized tank is one of the many glorious elements of a miniature world that pays homage to the wrecked car that was spray painted gold by local artists in North Fitzroy. Gold!

More details are available in the catalogue.


Urban Campfires is open from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday until March 2017.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this website may contain images and voices of people who have died.

Reviewed: 14/11/2016 © 2017 State Government of Victoria