Year 12 Studio Arts has given Ella McGee the opportunity to celebrate life.

But, while life is often symbolised by images of ‘the new’, Ella realised that it is older Australians who, having lived the longest, actually have the most ‘life’ in them.

Their bodies, Ella observes, display the evidence of all they’ve experienced.

“Skin folds, wrinkles and sun spots all tell stories of a person’s work—of childbearing—of the breadth of their life,” she says.

“Why, should we see these marks as ‘unattractive’ and stigmatise those who have them? I think of older people as beautiful and wise elders.”

Ella chose ageing as her topic at the end of Year 11, having already realised that ageism is a major problem in Western society.

“It makes me feel really awful when I see people who have given so much over such a long time—people who are still ‘here’—treated as though they aren’t.”

Once COVID-19 arrived, older Australians, especially those in aged care homes, were subject to strict lockdowns, but also a litany of disastrous breaches. Many ended their lives in the loneliest of ways.

Such situations fuelled Ella’s empathy and her artwork became an even more powerful comment on current attitudes to older people.

But why does a 17 year old choose a topic such as this in the first place—especially as Ella does not have any family in care?

She suspects a couple of factors drew her to ageing and ageism. One is an overwhelmingly positive experiences with older people throughout her life. An example being the people she met on her daily 45-minute train commute to BSSC.

“Young people usually won’t talk to you unless they know you, but many older people will,” she says.

It also occurred to her how isolating it might be for those whose lives have spanned the incredible technological and social changes of the last 80 years. She wonders how many end up feeling left behind.

Ella also become aware that elderly people do not get the same access to mental health care as other groups.

With all this in mind she approached a local aged-care home in Kyneton.

They were enthusiastic supporters of what she wanted to do; to take a series of photographs and then paint a portrait of an older person that captured all the wisdom, life experiences and beauty evident on a body in this phase of living.

“I’ve had really positive feedback from the residents who’ve seen the work so far,” Ella says. “I plan to donate the paintings to them once Year 12 is done.”

Ella hopes that next year, while the subjects of her paintings enjoy the work, she’ll be grabbing every opportunity offered by a Visual Arts & Literary Studies double major at Deakin University where she hopes to study in 2021.