Collaborative Mentorship Initiative

A unique mentorship program for early-career participants looking to build the knowledge, skills and capacity to pursue projects and goals.

Screenshot of a Zoom meeting with 9 people on 9 screens

Zoom screenshot of all participants in the Collaborative Mentorship Initiative 'Welcome Session'. L-R from first row: Ryan Lee; Nancy Yu; Franchesca Cubillo; Sarra Tzijan; Helen Kwok; Megan Cope; Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran; Rusaila Bazlamit; and Justine Youssef (NAVA).

About the program

The Collaborative Mentorship Initiative offers early-career practitioners the unique opportunity to work one-on-one with advising practitioners to build the confidence, self-knowledge, skills and capacity to pursue their goals.This program is based on a mutual mentorship model that compensates both the adviser and early-career practitioner as they share ideas and learn from one another.

Advising arts practitioners

Rusaila Bazlamit

Woman wearing a black dress, clear glasses and a beige headscarf looking slightly over her shoulder. On stage speaking at a panel.

Photo by Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, UWA 2016

Rusaila is a digital designer, visual communicator, lecturer in design and digital media, an experimental artist, and an occasional art curator. She has lectured at tertiary level in Architecture, Design, Digital and Interactive Media in Jordan and Australia, and has exhibited several digital and video art projects, interactive installations, and photography work worldwide. Rusaila is the founder of Lab Tajribi | Experimental Expressions, holds a PhD in Design (2019) from Curtin University, and her interests are centred in design activism, social justice, and representations of the misrepresented.

Megan Cope

Portrait of a woman with long brown hair wearing a burgundy velvet top, silver hoop earrings, and a shell necklace, looking into camera lens.

Photo by Rhett Hammerton

Megan Cope is a Quandamooka artist. Her site-specific sculptural installations, video work, painting and public art investigate issues relating to identity, the environment and mapping practices. She has featured in the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art (2020), The National (2017), and Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial (2017) and many more. In 2017-19 Cope was the Official Australian War Artist. Her work is held in Australian and international collections. She is a member of Aboriginal art collective proppaNOW, and is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane.

Franchesca Cubillo

Portrait of a woman with black wavy hair, wearing a black top and dangly earrings, staring into camera lens.

Photo by Lisa Mattiazzi, NG

Franchesca Cubillo is a proud Yanuwa, Larrakia, Bardi, and Wardaman woman from the ‘Top End’ region of Australia. She is a museum interventionist and has worked in several state and federal museums and art galleries across Australia for the last 30+ years. She is a Churchill Fellow, has a Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours in Anthropology and is a PhD candidate with the Australian National University.

Francesca will be joining the Australia Council in March as the Executive Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts. Previously, she was the Senior Curator Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery of Australia.

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

Portrait of man with shoulder-length curly black hair, wearing a bright floral button-up shirt and a silver septum ring, staring into camera lens.

Photo by Anna Kucera

Sri-Lankan born artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran is a contemporary artist who experiments with figurative sculptural and painting practices to explore politics of sex, the monument, gender and religion. 

Nithiyendran is represented by Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney + Singapore and is currently a resident of Parramatta Artist Studios, Rydalmere.

Early-career practitioners

Helen Kwok

Portrait of woman with black hair tied up staring into camera lens, wearing a white, blue and red striped shirt, white jacket and black framed glasses.

Photo by Chad Toprak

Helen Kwok is a multimedia artist and designer who has worked on playful installations, experimental games, and public play activations that have been showcased locally and internationally. Her creative practice often involves blending the digital and physical, crafting work that playfully and meaningfully extends beyond the screen.

In mentorship with Rusaila Bazlamit, Helen will develop her project Street Tape Games. A direct response to COVID-19, Street Tape Games is a temporary, public art installation that encourages the community to come outside and play again after lockdown. It uses social-distancing tapes to create a playspace that the public can use to play street games with social distancing in mind.

Ryan Lee

Black and white portrait of man with curly black hair and wearing a white shirt.

Photo provided by Ryan Andrew Lee

Ryan Andrew Lee is a conceptual video artist whose work is strongly influenced by First Nations as well as natural and spiritual philosophies. Using the medium of moving image and installation as his favoured tools of choice, Lee proactively strives to create work that resonates on a deeper level of human consciousness traversing divisive conceptual constructs such as class, culture, race, gender and religion. His work aims to raise consciousness across the current settler state diaspora and to promote deeper cross-cultural understanding and communication in order to assist the breakdown of such conceptual divisive barriers.

In mentorship with Megan Cope, Ryan will develop his moving image and installation based practice.

'Mt Olive' is a video-based diptych installation work that visually explores the idea of Ancestral Nostalgia, as well as exploring the displacement of ancestral lines following European settlement here in Australia.

The work also aims to analyse the concept of existential time in juxtaposition with spiritual and natural rhythm. The work will be exhibited at a solo exhibition at BAMM Moree, as well as some other galleries.

Sarra Tzijan

Black and white portrait of woman looking slightly off centre, with curly black hair tied up, and wearing a black and white zig zag patterned button up shirt.

Photo provided by Sarra Tzijan

Sarra Tzijan is an Indian/Australian emerging artist working across sculpture, jewellery and design. Tzijan’s practice is focused around the combination of traditional metalwork with contemporary art. Tzijan often works collaboratively to encourage the influence of others. ‘Flow’ is an important aspect of her process, allowing for spontaneity and free play.

In mentorship with Franchesca Cubillo, Tzijan will develop her project creating new sculptural work combining Dhokra with glass blowing; two traditional craft processes being used in a non-traditional context. The work explores the ‘Village Vessel’ concept; a singular artwork representing the hands of many. The outcome will be presented in a solo show at JamFactory.

Nancy Yu

Woman with long straight black hair wearing a white shirt sits at a desk holding a textured glass sculpture.

Photo by Felix Esteban

NC Qin is a Chinese Australian Artist who uses glass as her primary medium of choice in her sculptural installations, taking a traditionally craft based medium into the realm of contemporary art. Her installations draw on Eastern and Western cultural influences and philosophies in her exploration of the tension of identity.

In mentorship with Ramesh, Yu would like to focus on the navigation of opportunities in fellowships and grants in order to develop her professional practice. In the long term she would like to progress into making sculptural work that is monumental in scale and work towards creating Public Art.

Progress and Reflections

Nancy Yu and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

Session 1

Nancy: This photo of Ramesh and I was taken at my solo exhibition Glass Armours during our first mentoring session. The exhibition explores the complexity of identity separating our ego from our self into a manifestation of the heavy glass armour that we carry in our lives.

Through our first mentoring session for the Collaborative Mentorship Initiative, we talked about what direction I want to go towards as an artist as well as my intentions for the works in the exhibition as seeds for future exploration.

I am excited to meet Ramesh for our next session to discuss the possibilities of working as a sculptor in the public art sector and ways of navigating the opportunities to get there.

Photo of Nancy Yu and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran standing on either side of Nancy's sculpture in her solo exhibition Glass Armours

Nancy and Ramesh during a mentorship session at Nancy Yu's solo exhibition Glass Armours, Gallery Lane Cove + Creative Studios. Image courtesy of Nancy Yu.

[Image description: Photo of a woman and man standing on either side of a glass sculpture. The woman on the left has a black ponytail and wears a turtleneck, jeans and sneakers. The man has a black beard and top knot hairstyle, and is wearing a button-up shirt and shorts, with sneakers. The sculpture is light green, symmetrical, illuminated, and mounted on a white cement block.]

Fisheye photo of an exhibition featuring a painting series and various glass sculptures of armour.

Nancy Yu, Glass Armours, Gallery Lane Cove + Creative Studios. Image courtesy of Nancy Yu.

[Image description: Fisheye photo of an exhibition featuring a painting series and various glass sculptures of armour.]

Session 4

Nancy: In my last session with Ramesh we reworked my artist statement, discussing the importance of acknowledging myself first and foremost as an artist/sculptor working with glass, and not only as a glass artist. Although I am proud to be working with glass, he explained the trappings of an artist whose medium is traditionally used for "craft objects" (i.e. ceramics, glass) and the use of certain descriptors can often relegate artists to craftspeople in the eyes of curators. Ramesh also introduced me to a number of art publications to aid me in articulating my concepts in a way that is relevant to the art world today.


We also talked about what goes into a proposal logistically for a public art commission. One of my goals is to secure more opportunities within the public art sector as an emerging artist. I've recently been able to secure an opportunity for a stage 2 proposal on one of the projects for a developing public art program in my local Inner West council area. I'm excited about these insights that Ramesh has generously shared as they've opened my world a great deal within this mentorship program.

The left side of the image depicts a sculptural form made from green glass. On the right side of the image is the same form, but made out of clay.

Process image of Portal, courtesy of Nancy Yu.

[Image description: The left side of the image depicts a sculptural form made from green glass. On the right side of the image is the same form, but made out of clay.]

Helen Kwok and Rusaila Bazlamit

Session 1

Helen: My first mentoring session with Rusaila was delightful. We chatted about our identities as artists and the labels we often associate ourselves with; the use and role of technology in our work; the tension between fear and play in times of COVID; Usman Haque's mesmerising, participatory installations; and delved deep into the logistics, structure and context around my upcoming project, Street Tape Games - a public art installation that allows the public to play street games with social distancing in mind. Here are some images from the playtesting session of the installation. Street Tape Games is supported by the Moreland City Council through the Festivals Moreland Development Program. You can learn more about the project at: https://streettape.games. I look forward to meeting Rusaila again to discuss more about opportunities and considerations around how to be a self-sustaining artist.

Eleven people taking part in playtesting session of a public participatory art installation

Playtesting session of Street Tape Games, image courtesy of Helen Kwok.

[Image description: Photo of eleven people holding red and blue coloured umbrellas taking part in playtesting session of a public participatory art installation. They are standing 1.5m apart on colourful markings on asphalt.]

Photo of ten people taking part in playtesting session of a public participatory art installation

Playtesting session of Street Tape Games, image courtesy of Helen Kwok.

[Image description: Photo of ten people taking part in playtesting session of a public participatory art installation. They are standing 1.5m apart on colourful markings on asphalt. Half of the group have their hands behind their heads and the other half are holding red and blue umbrellas.]

Session 2

Helen: The focus for my second mentoring session with Rusaila was around financial security as an emerging artist. We chatted about different approaches to creating income; what kind of paid opportunities and jobs are available; how to balance working on my own projects and paying the bills; and the importance of showcasing my work to garner interest.

We also wrapped up our discussions talking about my upcoming presentation of my project, Street Tape Games, which will be showcased as part of the Fawkner Festa on 2 May 2021. We talked about the importance of documenting the work, and leaving time for reflection and feedback post-presentation.

Screenshot of Helen Kwok and Rusaila Bazlamit ​in the Zoom session for their second mentor catchup

Screenshot of Helen Kwok and Rusaila Bazlamit in the Zoom session for their second mentor catchup, courtesy of Helen Kwok.

Session 3

Helen: In our third mentoring session, I provided Rusaila a summary of how the presentation of Street Tape Games at Fawkner Festa went. Street Tape Games is a temporary installation that allows the public to play a series of street and playground games redesigned with social distancing.

I shared some of the challenges co-artist Chad Toprak and I faced, what worked and didn't work, lessons learnt, insightful moments, as well as funny anecdotes. It was extremely rewarding to see the smile on kids' faces, adults unexpectedly enjoying themselves, and strangers bonding through play.

The next presentation of Street Tape Games will be held on Tuesday 8 June 2021 as part of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival and supported by the City of Melbourne Arts Grants. There will be two facilitated play sessions to introduce the public to the games. The event is free, but registration is essential as spots are limited.

Session 4

Helen: For my final mentoring session with Rusaila, we chatted about activism in our work and considerations around designing politically driven experiences. I was especially inspired by two talks that I attended during the Freeplay Independent Games Festival this year, one of which Rusaila gave:

  1. Game Engines in Activist Spatial Experiences
  2. Power of Game and Art to Resist Power

In our mentoring session, Rusaila shared her wisdom around the role of the artist; decision-making around subject matter (general themes vs. specifics); managing fear; sensitivity around the use of terminology; and the importance of listening, community engagement, and self care especially when designing work that is so closely connected to culture and identity. 


Photo of six people taking part in presentation of a public participatory art installation

Presentation of Street Tape Games at Fawkner Festa 2021, image courtesy of Helen Kwok.

[Image description: Photo of six people taking part in presentation of a public participatory art installation. They are standing 1.5m apart on colourful markings on cement. Half of the group are holding differently coloured umbrellas.]

Sarra Tzijan and Franchesca Cubillo

Sarra: The mentorship with Franchesca landed at an ideal time - I was refining a new body of sculptural work that I’d spent most of 2021 developing. Through a series of online sessions Franchesca and I discussed a range of themes and concepts running through my work; colonisation, my heritage, belonging, cultural displacement, community making, authorship. We looked at indigenous processes and materials and how that related my work. Franchesca was very generous with information and her insight was refreshing, comforting and incredibly on-point!

Essentially we were looking at how to authentically communicate My Story through my work.

The mentorship allowed for focused and direct discussion. Franchesca’s comments challenged me to ask big questions and deeply explore my heritage - talk to my grandparents, document sounds and visuals, write, look at collections etc.

Prompted by the sessions with Franchesca, I’m focusing on research and development this year. I’m continuing to spend short periods in Aboriginal communities working at Art Centres, which has become a significant influence on my lifestyle and practice.

I’ve just installed my solo exhibition ‘Village Vessels’ at JamFactory, which presents the work discussed (open until the 6th February). Info here!

A photo of three jewel-toned glass vessels, each resting on top of a brass vessel. The glass is organically shaped and appears to slump into the surface of the brass. The three objects are against a plain white background.

Sarra Tzijan, Village Vessels, 2021. Photo: Grant Hancock

[Image description: A photo of three jewel-toned glass vessels, each resting on top of a brass vessel. The glass is organically shaped and appears to slump into the surface of the brass. The three objects are against a plain white background.]

Sarra:  I’ve been accepted into the Ausco Delegates Program due to start early February 2022. In May I’ll be undertaking a residency in Alice Springs at Central Craft. Time there will be focused on researching ceremonial objects in Indigenous culture and developing the wearable aspect of my practice.

This is my second mentorship and both experiences have exceeded my expectations. I would recommend this for anyone at any stage of their career.

Ryan Lee and Megan Cope

Ryan: The NAVA mentorship program has been amazing. It has allowed me to gain insight into some of my ideas from another perspective, allowing me to refine my concepts and overall give me more clarity and perspective on my direction and approaches towards these ideas.

An image of three people immersed up to their chests in water. They have white markings on their faces and look directly into the camera. Behind them are trees, mossy rocks and a waterfall. The light of the image is soft and hazy.

Ryan Lee, 33°25'17"S 151'°16'35"E. Image courtesy of Ryan Lee.

[Image description: An image of three people immersed up to their chests in water. They have white markings on their faces and look directly into the camera. Behind them are trees, mossy rocks and a waterfall. The light of the image is soft and hazy.]

Two logos on white background: Copyright Agency Cultural Fund and NAVA.

This project is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.