We are now in the mist of the holiday season, as our bellies recover from the turkey annual feast, It got me thinking about the less fortunate. Further, it got me thinking about Ms. Bunmi Gbadebo, an artist that showed her first series of pieces premiering at Stigmata, entitled “I Live at Penn Station”. Ms Gbadebo, a gentle spirit, is a student of The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, majoring is fine art, with plans of graduating in 2016. In reflections of Thanksgiving, we had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Gbadebo about her motivation for capturing the essence of the marginalized and the ignored people around us.
Here is a portion of that conversation. What inspired you to create your pieces? What sent you on this path of making this particular art?
There is a background story to my art pieces in the show. It was a journey for me, the whole experience was very eye opening and impacting to me. For several years, I spent my Thanksgiving’s feeding the “not-so-fortunate” among us at homeless shelters. I would leave feeling good about myself, but it was temporary and it felt artificial to me because afterward I would return back to my old routine. A week before the opening Stigmata, I changed my mind and wanted to do art on something that has always been important to me, and which is homelessness. So thats when I decided to begin to photograph the homeless and in doing so, I began to feel a deeper connection to the people I was photographing, and that’s when I decided to do my painting on the invisible people of Penn Station.
My father who is a successful engineer has experienced been homeless in the past as well as other family members who are currently homeless. Sunday night before the show I went down to Newark Penn Station with my camera phone, in the hopes of getting some pictures of homeless people. The first guy I asked to photograph said no and I started to feel discouraged, but then a homeless man started talking to me. I asked him if he knew of any homeless people that would be willing to be photograph for an art show. He said yes and took me around Penn Station directing me to people he thought would be safe enough to ask. The first person I photographed was a lady named Tater, who is a very nice tiny older women with a soft spirit. One thing she said that I will never forget is that “being homeless isn’t fun.”
After Ms. Tater, Edwin a homeless man, took me to almost eight other homeless people to photograph. I took their photos and gave them a little bit of money just to say thanks. During this experience there was a guy who I photographed and I gave him $10, and then he walked away. About five minutes later he came back in tears asking for a hug saying that he hadn’t eaten in so long and that he was so hungry. He thanked me and I took another picture of him. That picture is what I used to create the painting I had in the art show. They began to trust me and tell me their stories, one individual, his name is Mike, he began to treat me like his little sister, and introduce me to others that would be willing to discuss with me their circumstance. They looked out for me while at Penn Station, waiting for my Mom to pick me up.
To capture the moment and the experiences I had with this man, I decided to make his painting almost entirely out of food. I used rice, spaghetti, beans, wheat, and coffee grinds. This experience has taught me that homeless people are regular people and are not all crazy or on drugs. I made an impact on Edwin that night, all because I wanted to tell a little part of his homeless story. That night when I left Penn Station I had people running up to me asking if I could take their picture. I wanted to paint the rest of the people I photographed that night and incorporate my experience with them.
painting of lady- I Live at Penn Station: Tater
I decided to make his painting almost entirely out of food. I used rice, spaghetti, beans, wheat, and coffee grinds.
mix media food painting of man: I Live at Penn Station: Eat (Hunger Pain) Edwin
Ms. Gbadebo efforts are now paying off. From her experiences, she now seeks to create a program to get homeless people off the street. Pastor Terry Richardson of 1st Baptist Church in S. Orange, heard her story and is joining her on this mission. The church congregation has begun to start raising money to purchase a multi-family home where homeless individual can stay for two years, to get back on the feet. The Art of Giving mixed with creativity can be a powerful source.