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Emerging artist illustrates connection to nature at Craft ACT exhibition

An earthy, palpable portrayal of Australian wildlife in response to last summer’s bushfires is one of 79 works being shown as part of the Craft ACT Emerging Contemporaries exhibition.

Akka Ballenger Constantin, a CIT Visual Arts graduate, is one of 14 participating artists in the showcase.

The opportunity to participate presented itself after her work was displayed in the 2020 CIT Visual Arts graduation exhibition. Craft ACT awarded Constantin for her efforts, with part of the prize being the opportunity to showcase her work in their exhibition.

“That was a bit unexpected,” she smiled. “Like everyone else, I just wanted to graduate and feel proud of the body of work I made.”

The work displayed is part of a project called The Lost Ark that Constantin started last year, comprising drawings, linocuts and etchings responding to the 2019-20 bushfire season and its impact on Australian flora and fauna.

“It was a sobering moment where I felt like we didn’t have any timeframe to actually process, understand or even grieve what happened after last summer’s fires,” she said.

“It was the fires, then the hail, then Covid … and then towards the end of the year when we started to work on our grad show, I thought ‘well, what am I going to do for my final body of work?’.

“I am an art educator, I work with children, and I thought this would be a good way to educate the children of tomorrow.”

Tying into the themes of Constantin’s project, for her graduation exhibition she made a QR code displayed beside her works that allowed people to donate directly to Wildlife ACT and Wildtalk.

“These two places really need people’s help,” she said.

With her work in the Emerging Contemporaries exhibition depicting a native bird drawn on a gum leaf, Constantin had an abundance of supplies for the project as she lives beside grasslands.

The work as part of the Craft ACT exhibition. It depicts a native bird drawn on a gum leaf.
Constantin had an abundance of supplies for the project as she lives beside grasslands. The work had already been purchased eight days into the six-week exhibition.

“I usually like to start drawing on the leaves while they are still green,” she said.

“Once they start drying out, if you’re using fine liners or pigment liners there is a chance that your tip will go through the leaf.

“I build the image in black in the beginning and then I add colours.

“Once I’m happy with the drawings, I apply resin to keep the leaf together because otherwise it will disintegrate.”

Speaking to Canberra Weekly eight days into the six-week Craft ACT exhibition, Constantin’s work had already been purchased.

With a background in photography, film and journalism, Constantin’s artistic practice now comprises drawing, printmaking, painting and poetry.

It was in 2018 that Constantin decided to pursue a formal education in art by way of CIT’s Visual Arts Diploma.

“I thought maybe now I’m old enough to go for what I want … My family really supported me,” she said.

“I wanted to learn how to do things properly and I knew that out of everyone else, at CIT I would have the opportunity to get hands on.

“I wanted to get my hands messy, and they have beautiful workshops … It was really great for me to learn how to do things properly.”

Born in Romania, Constantin has lived in Australia on and off since 2001, and moved to Canberra in 2008.

Swapping the mountains of her homeland for the grasslands of Canberra, she said she loves the quality of life here.

“It’s just a good fit. I grew up on a farm in the middle of the mountains, and I guess here you have the best of that.

“There’s a lot of new architecture, but there’s also that connection to nature.

“I don’t feel the coercion of the concrete, you know the city can just squish you in, but here that’s not the case, it’s beautiful.”

The Craft ACT Emerging Contemporaries exhibition is on display now until 20 March; craftact.org.au

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