We sat down with SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence Evie McKenna and talked about her program at Queensbridge-Riis Neighborhood Senior Center. Her students had a session exploring Kehinde Wiley's portrait of President Obama with its floral backdrop and symbolism. Here's what Evie had to share about the project and the impact of the SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence program:
What inspired you to do this project?
My students are inspired by the work of Kehinde Wiley and I took advantage of the recent news showing of this artist's portrait of President Obama to say more about his process and re-interpret it in the Riis Senior Center. The group was receptive to the idea especially when I could easily show them the results digitally. They are sometimes reluctant to pose thinking their appearance has changed so much but with the beautiful background and flowers added, they were more comfortable. Small prints were made and copies distributed back to the seniors which were a big success.
How do you think SU-CASA benefits the seniors and the community?
Su-Casa benefits the seniors and the community by showing them a different world artistically than what they usually see. And when you can connect their life experience to a subject it's very powerful as they see a personal value in this expression. I often hear of their pride in telling family members about the class and what new things we are doing. They love the backstory!
What would you tell another artist about the SU-CASA program?
I would say that you get the best of teaching young people with their curiosity and interest but no real disciplinary problems. You learn to trust their aesthetic and let them make choices that could surprise and teach you. The compliment that this kind of individual expression adds to anyone's life is hard to measure but I do think it is really appreciated and gives these seniors something that goes beyond their expectations. As an artist you aren't always sure that your individual voice is heard but the seniors have a way of trusting you artistically that is heartwarming.