Art gives a voice to those in need

1,000 paper stars formed the backdrop at NQ Community Services'inaugural Queensland Women's Week event IMAGE: HUXLEY Press

Last Friday, 10 March, 80 women from across the Upper Ross region united under a colourful blanket of woven stars to mark Queensland Women’s Week.

While many women’s day celebrations seem to be geared toward the high-flying corporate woman, NQ Community Services’ inaugural event bucked the trend; instead, focusing on the women and girls involved in grassroots organisations across the community.

An overarching theme of the event was the power of art and creative industries to lend a voice to those who are often rendered voiceless and speakers included artist and journalist Michelle Tyhuis; Kirwan State High School’s Visual Arts Coordinator Adriana Hering; and Gwen Laffin from The Empowering Mamas women’s group.

1,000 paper stars formed the backdrop at NQ Community Services’ inaugural Queensland Women’s Week event

Gwen and the Empowering Mamas had woven the 1,000 paper stars that hung as a bright and inspiring backdrop for the speakers; and which will form part of the One Million Stars to End Violence display at the Commonwealth Games next year.

Gwen said Empowering Mamas utilises arts and crafts to bring people together when they most need companionship or mentoring.

“Empowering Mamas started off as an indigenous group with Community Justice in town. We started out being an outreach for domestic violence, and this was to be a safe place for women to come to, to see where they needed to go to get help,” explained Gwen.

“What we were doing was just sitting quietly, we were doing a little bit of painting and a little bit of crocheting so we could sit quietly and people could talk if they wanted to… It was mainly for women who were victims of domestic violence and it’s turned into more of a, well, just a feel-good group.

“Now we just tell people ‘Come and have a cup of tea, come and have a sandwich and we’ll do some stuff.’ If we made somebody’s day a little bit better, that’s ok.”

Gwen said the Empowering Mamas has since branched out a bit to include children from Community Justice who might want a chance to talk nicely with the aunties; and that these young people had really embraced the act of weaving stars for the One Million Stars Project.

“We have kids coming from Youth Justice who are in trouble, they’re in trouble and yet they’ve come in here and they’ve sat down with us and just listened to us, just talking. No aggravation, no nothing, it’s nice and calm and you do, you get into this mode of folding and ‘oh beautiful star’,” Gwen said.

Guests at NQ Community Services’ event left their mark on a collaborative art piece lead by local artisist Michelle Tyhuis

“It’s so surprising that the young boys have really embraced this – these are boys who are in trouble with the law and they have really enjoyed our group. I don’t know why. I suppose they don’t have to look at us, they can have their eyes down [while they’re weaving], but they can hear and they’re part of it. It’s a very nice thing of sitting around.”

Gwen said the One Million Stars to End Violence Project – which was inspired by the rape and murder of Melbourne woman Jill Meagher in 2012 – is an example of how beauty can come from tragedy.

“It’s violence that has created this beautiful thing, the thought of violence has been turned around by the project – they’re the stars to light the way to the end of violence.”

Empowering Mamas meet at the Upper Ross Community Centre every Tuesday at 10am.

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