New teen project celebrates community elders

100 teens paint 100 portraits of South East Queensland’s oldest residents, in new exhibition 100: A centenarian project by teenagers.

They say a picture paints a thousand words but there is a lot more to the story behind this moving exhibition.  100: A centenarian project by teenagers is a community arts project which celebrates the elders of our community, promotes inter-generational friendships and collaborations, and fights loneliness and ageism through art and storytelling.

The project selects 100 artists aged 14-19 years and matches them with 100 centenarians (people aged 100 years or over) in their area. After an initial introduction, the artists visit their partnered centenarians often over a period of time during which conversations are had, sketches are created, photos are shot, and stories are shared. The artist then turns these moments into a portrait accompanied by a written piece sharing stories of their subjects and their approach to life at 100 and beyond. The finale is an exhibition of 100 portraits celebrating the centenarians of our community, after which each centenarian is gifted their portrait.  This month’s exhibition will mark the first time the initiative has been launched in Queensland, coinciding perfectly with the start of Queensland Seniors Week.

Rose Connors Dance from not-for-profit arts organisation Embraced Inc. is the driving force behind the project.  “The initiative has been successful in Melbourne and Sydney, and it’s exciting to uncover the artistry and stories from South East Queensland,” she says.

One of the centenarians who participated in the project was a man named Bob, partnered with Gold Coast artist Katura Halleday (14).  Katura would go over to Bob’s house and have a glass of milk with a cookie and listen to how his life had changed over time.  He was born in Adelaide and proudly says he grew up without electricity. He comes from a big family and recalls the memory of he and his brother’s unicycling adventures.

After being drafted into the war Bob refused to pick up arms. Bob was a conscientious objector and whilst he was happy to serve in the army, this created issues with where he could work.  He was made a head cook at a hospital in Australia, which is where he spent the rest of his working life alongside the love of his life, his wife Muriel.

“These are the stories we often forget to ask the older generation, those who helped shape Australia into the place it is today,“ says Rose.

This project succeeds in not only providing a space where these stories can be heard, but in also instigating connections between people whom may never have had the opportunity to meet, to become friends, regardless of age.

Katura has certainly learned valuable lesson from her time on the project.

“Bob has taught me to look at the bigger picture in life, to ‘roll with the punches’ a bit more, and to make sure that I am happy with the life that I live, and to always stay true to my values.

“I enjoyed connecting with another generation, one that I miss since my grandparents passed away,” she continues.

“It was lovely to sit and chat. Time seems to be so plentiful when I was in Bob’s presence, like he had a calming effect on the universe around him… He makes my life richer.”

100: A Celebration of Queensland’s Oldest Residents will be open to the public from 17 August to 1 September at Seven Hills Hub, 28 Tallowwood Street, Seven Hills. The exhibition is free and wheelchair accessible.  It is sponsored by key partners sponsored by key partners Estia Health, the Queensland Government and supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

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