The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is the largest and most influential museum of modern art in the world. As part of a creative aging initiative, our seniors got to engage with the art of photography in the MoMA. The program featured a guided tour of exhibits, and two photography classes at our center conducted by Jano Cortijo, an artist-educator from the museum.
“Looking” at photos at MoMA:
Jano Cortijo, an artist educator from the MoMA asks our what they notice in Samuel Fasso’s self-portraits
Our seniors study Robert Rauschenberg’s photographs at the MoMA
Henri Carter-Bresson, considered one of the world’s greatest photographers, said, “In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject.” Our seniors were encouraged to look for the smallest thing in a photo and asked to wonder why it had been included and what effect it had on the photograph. We looked at light falling through a sheet, the lines on a tower, various graphic shapes in Robert Rauschenberg’s work — with Cortijo asking guiding questions that made our seniors understand the many choices that go into making a photograph. We talked about Samuel Fasso’s self-portraits which have him taking on roles of his heroes like Nelson Mandela and Angela Davis, and his attempt to take on a larger political and activist role as an artist.
Seniors workshop their own photographs
Photography class, homework and all:
Taking photos outdoors and in the street
A lesson about backgrounds
After looking at photos by famous artists, our seniors got a lesson in taking better photographs using a smartphone. They learned about backgrounds, about lighting, angles, position of the photographer, focus on the subject and rudimentary editing. They also learned about the difference in portrait photography versus landscapes, tricks to modulate the brightness in iPhones and so on.
Cortijo, the artist-educator, also assigned our seniors “homework.” They were asked to take photos at home using their new found skills. When their homework assignments were displayed on the TV, the class enthusiastically critiqued the results – generously pointing out what worked in the photos as well as the flaws.
Our seniors listened avidly and responded with enthusiasm to this foray into photography as art. While it is true that modern technology has made taking a photograph easy, it was fascinating for seniors to see it as an art form, one that required more than just a point and click. We could see that the lessons had made a difference–many of the photos taken after the class showed that they were paying attention and practicing their skills!
Our seniors loved the tight focus on the little boy, the symmetry of the trees, the repetition of ochre color in this photograph. (c) Jayesh Patel.
India Home’s seniors are learning computer skills, many for the first time
India Home’s Desi Senior Center is now offering computer classes to senior men and women who want to learn to handle technology. Mr. Palash Piplu, a volunteer, teaches the class on Thursdays. For now, Palash is familiarizing our seniors, many of whom have never touched a computer, with basic computer skills, such as how to open a file and save it, or how to browse the internet.
A. Mahbubul Latif is happy that he is learning something new and wants to learn all about the computer. “I can do my own work, take care of my own things,” he said.
India Home started these classes because there is a strong desire among our seniors to get in touch with the world. As Latif said, “Everything is on computers now…but when I ask at home to teach me computers, nobody helps me.”
Learning the unfamiliar technology don’t come not easy for these elders, but they persist. They are determined to learn the intricacies of computer use, even though, as Latif acknowledged, “We didn’t practice computers in our time.”
It has been heartening to see how the women at the center have been at the forefront of the classes, encouraging each other to participate.
Rabeya Khanom is 67 years old but wants to be always learning. At the beginning of the class, she said, “It was difficult to catch up,” and wished there was a “shortcut.” But she says she’s “learning this from my own interest. It is better to be learning something than sitting at home doing nothing,” she said. She also doesn’t want to be left behind. “Everybody has computer in our home, internet too. I want to use email and the internet,” she said.
While many of the seniors have never used a computer, several others have worked and retired in the US. They are taking to classes to update their skills. Farida Talukdar worked for 23 years in the Social Services department in New York City and says she has a basic knowledge of computers. But now, she said, she “was getting interested in Word, Excel and the Internet. ” With the instructor Palash’s teaching, these programs, were “becoming much easier now,” she said.
It is a well known fact that students learn better with support from their families. Our adult learners are being encouraged by their children. For Ms. Khanum, there’s an additional incentive to master computers: “My daughter said if I learn computers, she will buy a computer for me,” she said, smiling from ear to ear.
Funding for the 14 unit computer lab was generously provided by Department for the Aging and Commissioner Dr. Donna Corrado.
(With additional reporting from Shah Afroditi Panna)
On August 18th, members from our Desi Senior Center took a trip to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in midtown Manhattan. Departing from the Jamaica Muslim Center at 11 a.m, the two buses made it to the museum at 12:30pm. During the trip, our seniors had lots of fun singing songs and telling jokes.
At the museum, they were thrilled by the wax statues of famous people. Wax statues at the museum are difficult and expensive to make, our members learned. They were especially happy to see Bill and Hillary Clinton.
After hanging out on 42nd Street and seeing all the tourists and bright lights of the theater district, we took them to Brooklyn to show them around this borough. They went to downtown Brooklyn – and were impressed by its skyline- and Prospect Park.
We love taking our seniors around the city and state so they get exposed to American life and culture. Often, our seniors cannot go on their own. These trips are very important for our seniors to see different places and learn more about the United States.
MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, is not only one of the world’s largest museums for modern art, it is also the most influential museum of modern art on the planet.
Now the museum is bringing its power and prestige to a program that will get more older adults to visit the museum, take its classes and learn about art. Called Prime Time, the initiative plans to engage older adults with opportunities to experience art in new ways and is part of a broader attempt to redefine aging.
India Home was part of Prime Time Exchange, a conference that brought together 20+ museums and cultural institutions, 20+ multi-services agencies and aging services organizations, city agencies, community-based arts organizations and teaching artists. India Home’s Lakshman Kalasapudi and Meera Venugopal were on two separate panels with Evelyn Laureano of Neighborhood SHOPP that serves 5000 seniors in the Bronx and Christian Gonzalez-Rivera of Center for an Urban Future, who, among other things, is the author of an important and timely study of immigrants and aging in NYC.
It was an opportunity to make great connections with other museums and art organizations and we hope to see teaching artists from MOMA come out to meet with our older adults. We were happy to share our experience of serving South Asian immigrant seniors with the audience at the Exchange. We hope that more arts institutions in NYC will think about the unique needs and perspectives of immigrant seniors and invite them to contribute to this conversation about art, creativity and aging.