Barack Obama's Neighborhood
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Artist Statement by Susan Benay

My curiosity about how the raw intensity of the Hawaiian sun plays out visually upon form and atmosphere and what that blazing light reveals drew me towards the original seed-concept of this art show. I was contemplating some creative venues to explore with this idea, when Presidential candidate Barack Obama arrived unexpectedly in Hawaii for a rally and a well- deserved vacation.

I had a long-standing enthusiastic interest in Obama, so I went to Keehi Lagoon on Oahu to hear him speak. I thought I would to take some photographs that I could later create paintings from. The summer day was ablaze with bright sunlight and blue sky. Thanks to the fine Aloha spirit of friends a front row seat was saved for me. We all waited patiently in the hot sun for the Obamas to arrive. When they did, the crowd exploded with an electric snap of excitement and wild cheers.

Obama began to speak; I looked carefully at him and began taking photographs. As my lens zoomed in, I was noticing in closer and closer detail the powerful effect that the tropical sunlight was having upon not only the sculptural aesthetics of his physical presence, but also in defining a pure expression of his inner state of being. It struck me that the play of equatorial light and shadow illumined him in a way that revealed an extraordinarily intimate glimpse of who he was. Every movement he made, every gesture he caste, every word he spoke was underscored, amplified, and clarified by the vivid sharpness of the hot light and cool shadow. The noonday brilliance made him seem to me at once young, freshly grown, idealistic as well as ancient, wise, and mythological; a transcendent icon of humanity and a living work of art.

Many consider Obama exotic and mysterious perhaps because of his Hawaiian origins. I think however that the very Hawaiian sun that this native son was raised under highlighted a strikingly clearer picture of him. The way that the sun washed over him created a beautiful dimension of form and chiseled definition of soul that revealed very much of the nature, depth, character, and humanity of the man. The camera offered a perfect medium to capture in the flash an image that could reveal an underlying reality or ‘truth’ that the eye might miss. And through that photographic image, as time goes on, one can continue unwrapping new layers of awareness that will expand and enrich one’s understanding of the subject.

In August of 2008, I went to see the Obamas on the other side of the island. In December of 2008, Obama as President-elect came back again to Oahu to vacation for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. This time, he came to the scenic beach town of Kailua where I live. He and his family stayed right across from me. It was fun and fascinating to see all the goings ons in our neighborhood with our holiday guests. Due to my fortunate proximity to our new president, I was able to more deeply explore through image and observation some expanded scenarios of the ‘artistry’ of his presence under the brilliant light of Hawaii.

This show offers an intimate experience of Obama as defined and clarified by the pure splendor of the Hawaiian sun and by the parameters of my creative perception and artistic effort. They speak of a few cherished moments that are rare and historic in context of the man, the time, and the place.

I met Obama briefly and experienced first hand his extraordinary depth of being and powerful expanse of presence. My hope is that these photographs will welcome one ‘in’ to connect with a beautiful up- close experience of him combined with a wonderful sun-drenched feeling of Hawaii.

Susan Benay
April 1, 2009
© Susan Benay, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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