Con Emmanuelle, Visual Arts teacher at Melbourne Polytechnic, recently published his passion project 'Tales of Cyprus'.
Following the passing of his father, Con made it his mission to record the living memories of his parents’ generation. The elderly Cypriot contributors hold within them the last authentic remembrances of an era steeped in tradition and custom.
A graphic designer by profession, he moved into teaching at a tertiary level in 1991. Con says ‘I’ve managed to practice visual art and design alongside and in-step with my teaching career. This is something that has helped me establish industry credibility with my students as I stay in touch with workplace practices. When I am not teaching I’m either drawing, painting or designing something that represents my cultural background and heritage.’ Which brings us to another facet to Con Emmanuelle, that of author of a book all about his cultural heritage – Tales of Cyprus launched in late 2018.
Tribute to a bygone era
‘Tales of Cyprus’ explores the cultural heritage of Con’s ancestral homeland. As ‘Google books’ put it, ‘Tales of Cyprus is more than a tribute to a bygone era, it is a recollection of a way of life that has all but disappeared.’ Including over 500 vintage photographs which, given Con’s background in visual arts and its appreciation, tell stories by themselves; the book is a drawcard for study of pre 1950s Cyprus, whether familial or for curiosity’s sake.
‘For me, painting Hellenic scenes or images that depict my ethnicity has become my main focal point in art. I have always enjoyed reading historical novels but it wasn’t until my father passed away in 2011, when I became obsessed with reading and researching everything about his birthplace and ancestral home, Cyprus.’ Con interviewed elderly Cypriots from his father’s generation and by 2014 had completed around 40 interviews and by the end of 2017 he had completed 120.
‘Each interview shed more light on what life was like in Cyprus during the first half of the 20th century.’ The entire book presents an oral history of a generation using their own voices gleaned from Con’s interviews, guaranteeing their legacy will be preserved.
Creativity and ideas
‘There isn’t a specific location or source that feeds my creative thoughts. I’m always thinking about ways I can communicate my message to others. Sometimes I might be watching an old movie and see something in a particular scene that triggers an artistic response in my mind and off I go to pick up my pencil and notepad.’ For his art and writing, Con says there is no specific source for his ideas ‘they’re born out of so many emotional responses to the world around me, visual and audible.’
Likewise, his inspiration for writing is largely spontaneous, he says ‘I can just sit and burst out 1000 words in one sitting’ rather than linger over what he wants to write. The initial stimulus of Con’s Cypriot family history triggered an emotional response, igniting passion and pushing him to build resources through conversations and research.
Is the future full of writing?
Pressed about the future and whether writing would feature, Con says ‘the short answer is that I have at least two other books in me. This first book is titled Tales of Cyprus: A tribute to a bygone era. I already know that my second book will be called Tales of Cyprus: Unsung heroes and untold stories. I don't plan to start writing my second book until 2020. I want to have a bit of a rest from writing next year and return back to my first love, which is drawing.’
Con at work
As a teacher in Visual Arts, Con teaches ‘a whole bunch of subjects from basic design through to professional practice. I also tend to teach units that relate to digital art and of course creative practice and design.’ Con’s expertise underpins creative thinking and he teaches units because he loves them and has been ‘blessed in my teaching career to have the autonomy and freedom to teach units that are based on my subject matter expertise. This is very important.’
Con works with Program Leaders who respect and appeal to his existing skill set and experience. ‘I don’t think I could do my job properly if I had to teach something I was either not competent in teaching or not experienced enough to teach.’
Melbourne Polytechnic has a vibrant and hands-on Visual Arts program and Con works with course coordinators, program leaders and other teachers to deliver training; ‘I’m not a big fan of passive learning where students sit around like robots and are force-fed the curricula through computer screens.’ He encourages communication between students as often as possible and has ‘a particular style that allows for practical style teaching and applied learning to take place…’ he has ‘always been a highly energetic and mostly practical-oriented teacher that thrives on getting students to do the same.’
Con has taught for over 25 years and has had many ‘magic moments’ as he likes to call them. ‘I have had a charmed life as a teacher and met many wonderful students and teachers.’
Con’s first truly magic moment happened in his first year of teaching, when he met a student named Thomas B, at Central TAFE in Perth. Thomas was about to be given his marching orders, with staff and students all agreeing he should be removed from the course and ‘I was on the only one that could see that Thomas needed support and encouragement and so I spent a few extra hours a week and tried to comfort his rather messed-up mind. That’s when I discovered that, as teachers, we have a greater role to play with our students.’
Suffice to say, Thomas responded to Con’s attention and encouragement, proving to everyone that he had the skills and talent to complete three years of study with top grades. ‘That experience set the foundation for all my future teaching experiences with other students like Thomas. Maybe I should call it the Thomas B factor?’