First Class 20 opens at MAC

Published on 12 February 2021

first class 20 opening.jpg

First Class 20 opens at MAC

The COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and environmental issues affecting society are among the dramatic themes explored in a new exhibition by some of the Hunter Region’s top Visual Arts 2020 HSC students.

Curator Helen Willis said the 37 works selected chosen for the annual First Class 20 exhibition at the Museum of Art and Culture (MAC) in Lake Macquarie “express students’ awareness of the big issues facing us all”.

“The curators don’t begin the selection process with any preconceived themes in mind,” she said.

“But this year’s emerging themes centred understandably around the pandemic year and its associated mental and emotional health issues, as well as family, the importance of home and personal relationships.

“These students are commenting on the uncertainty of our lives today.”

For Merewether High School student Pepita Barton, much of the COVID-19 lockdown was spent painstakingly carving out a giant, multi-layered paper sculpture titled Delicate Deadly – her interpretation of a coronavirus.

“The concept behind my artwork is the relationship between science, nature and art, and the merging of these very different but very connected fields,” Barton said.

“It’s also a juxtaposition of this idea between delicate and deadly. I’m fascinated by the idea that this living organism has the power to change everything that we live in, in the world today.”

More than 20 schools from the Hunter and Central Coast are represented in this year’s exhibition, with works covering everything from ceramics and sculpture to digital drawing and embroidery.

Lake Macquarie Mayor Cr Kay Fraser said the exhibition reflected the depth of creative young talent across the Hunter Region.

“Seeing these works makes you realise not just what is important to young people today, but what their creative potential is,” Cr Fraser said.

“We must support, nurture and celebrate this as they continue through life beyond the HSC.”

St Mary’s Catholic College Gateshead 2020 HSC student Liam Nash created striking portraits of himself and his girlfriend, using a collage of hundreds of screenshots, text messages and other digital correspondence sent to and from his girlfriend during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“My girlfriend and I met during a three-day leadership retreat in February 2020, and after that we went back to our respective homes – mine being in Lake Macquarie and hers being up near Taree,” Nash said.

“So initially, due to our distance, we communicated via texts, photo messaging, video calls and phone calls, and our relationship developed almost entirely in a digital world.”

St Francis Xavier’s College 2020 HSC student Grace Bosworth spent more than 120 hours creating her oil-on-canvas work, Unveiled, influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“As I was designing my work, the media was exposing the police brutality and unfair actions that were happening to different races in America,” she said.

“I wanted to bring in the idea that we actually need to have more of an open mind, and there needs to be new growth in society about racism and everyone being equal.”

Martina Mrongovius, Council’s new Arts Producer for the Lake Arts Precinct, congratulated all of the 2020 HSC students featured in this year’s exhibition.

“We received more than 150 submissions to First Class 20, and the quality of work across the board was fantastic,” she said.

“This year marks the 13th instalment of First Class and it continues to be one of the most popular exhibitions at MAC.”

First Class 20 is open until Sunday 2 May. Go to for more information.