My ideal sidekick is… Voices Through Art at the John Hansard Gallery [Part 1]

On August 10 and 11, the Voices through Art team held two workshops at the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton. The first workshop was aimed at autistic students, to gain further feedback on Comic 1, and some of the storylines and initial artwork for Comics 2 and 3. The second workshop was aimed at invited professionals from different educational settings, to promote the use of comics to gain student voices, talk about transitions, and to think through how these can be best used and integrated into different educational practices and settings.  

Inspired by the Hetian Patel exhibition taking place at the gallery, namely his Jump piece, we themed this workshop around the idea of a superhero’s sidekick. The students engaged discussing the qualities or skills that may make a good sidekick – someone you would want by your side in a sticky situation, and then drawing their ideal sidekick. All the attendees got stuck in, including our team. It was hugely inspiring to see how different ideas came to life in each student’s drawings and descriptions in different ways – some chose to to describe their sidekick before using this as inspiration for their drawing, whilst others did the opposite. 

Following this, Sarah, Sam, and Tracie performed a ‘dramatic re-enactment’ of our second comic, which is still in the sketch phases. We encouraged the young people to reflect on what they liked and disliked about the two new comics. We received a considerable amount of valuable information from these students; for example, they discussed a need for humour to be woven into the comics yet stressed an individual’s humour is unique and what could be funny for one person might not be for another. Further, the young people expressed ideas for further development of our comics, from character designs to stories like coping with the stress of travelling to school, getting ready in the morning at home, and dealing with a bully. These insights are incredibly valuable for the team – only the students can tell us what needs to be included in the stories, and how to depict their strengths and stressors.

Tracie acting out the second comic to the students

Overall, we hope this session enabled the young people attending to feel like their voices and experiences were heard and appreciated by the team. We have taken this feedback ‘back to the drawing board’ and will implement it in our project – for example, some of the feedback we are working on now includes adding an extra page to comic 2, to better explore the different ways students may express themselves, and communicate their need for space, and changing the comic colours to reflect those most used  by the students in their drawings.