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Invisible Maps – An Art Guide to Sparking Young People’s Imagination

May 14, 2014

Image: Walking Project, Shopfront, 2013. Photo credit: Lucy Parakina.

Sarah Emery was the outreach director of Shopfront, an arts co-operative owned by young people, based in Carlton, Sydney from 2008-2013. In 2013, she was awarded the Australia Council’s Kirk Robson Award for her sustained work in community and her new book, Invisible Maps: An Art Guide to Spark Young People’s Imagination is published by Shopfront this year. Invisible Maps is a hands-on guidebook, filled with multi-arts processes that have engaged and delighted the hundreds of young people Emery has worked with. Her book is accompanied by a double music CD, created by young people with long time collaborator, radio DJ & celebrated music producer, meem.

Sarah Emery sees her role as an artist-in-process. Her distinct and beautiful artwork is shaping the process and engagement between people, as they encounter the contemporary arts and begin to fashion their own stories and imagery using the rich disciplines of image, performance and writing. The outcome, the final artwork, belongs to the people she is working with.

Emery describes her book, Invisible Maps as a little bit like a recipe book, but not as prescriptive. Her own practice is fuelled by her relentless research, reading and looking at other people’s work across the broadest context. A trained teacher and theatre-maker, Emery steals ideas that spark her practice, she never follows prescriptive tasks and one small thing might grab her imagination and she builds from there. She often looks at pictures and develops simple tasks based on the ruse at the heart of imagery and then she takes those enquiries into the room (classroom, park, hall, street). Emery approached writing Invisible Maps in a similar way. She collected work from her time at Shopfront, drew out themes and categorized them, so that other people (youth workers, artists, teachers, young people) can explore different ways to respond to ideas. One chapter is about portraiture, which invites people to layer and add visual processes that drill down and extend the idea of the self-portrait. Each ‘recipe’ aims to spark facilitators and young people’s imaginations. The book offers a framework people can use directly to build repertoire or as inspiration for their own applied work.

Invisible Maps is a concrete declaration of Emery’s long term cultural vision: she would like to see an exciting, vibrant future where young people’s art is shown in mainstream spaces. She is interested in opening up spaces for work from the community, made by young people and others, to be seen by general audiences and looks forward to more institutions and festivals take up on content made by young people, including children’s television created by young people for young audiences. For Emery, visibility and voice for young people is crucial to diversity just as is a healthy, integrated young people’s arts movement, in which work filters out and reaches all the different places and people that the arts can reach.

Invisible Maps by Sarah Emery is available for purchase.

Sarah Emery is an award-winning multi-artform practitioner. She is currently exploring the limits of cinematic portraiture and the moving camera, in a collaborative process with community members. Sarah is Associate Director with Milkcrate Theatre, Sydney and freelances with Heaps Decent, Shopfront and independently.

Caitlin Newton-Broad, Co-Artistic Director, Shopfront