If you could share only one word of wisdom with your grandchildren, what would it be?
Cynthia Walker — who goes by Katori Walker professionally — and Evan Bishop asked the question of senior citizens in Riverdale and Yonkers as part of their upcoming photo exhibition “The 100 Words of Wisdom Exhibit.” It debuts at the Blue Door Art Center in Yonkers on Oct. 26, beginning at 1 p.m.
The idea came from a conversation the two artists had with Walker’s grandmother, who was 95 at the time.
“I noticed how this question made her sit back and put down her fork and knife,” Bishop said. “I looked at Katori and I thought I said something wrong.”
Instead, Katori’s grandmother was simply pondering the question. Her answer? “Focus.”
Later, the two painted the word on her hand, sharing the story on social media.
Inspired by that success, the duo said they knew they had the makings of a full-fledged project. Bishop wanted to show elders their stories mattered.
“There has been some disrespect to elders as to getting on buses and trains, and the youth just standing there not offering their seats or anything,” Walker said.
“We thought that this would be a great way with this project to bridge that gap.”
Through the interviews, Walker said many felt societal values were lost to today’s technology.
“That whole family unit of sitting down and talking to your elders or calling them or seeing them or wanting to learn about their life was something that was lacking,” she said.
The elders praised having senior centers and groups focusing on older adults because it gave the opportunity to stay active and participate in the community.
Bishop, who grew up in Riverdale and lived at Skyview-on-the-Hudson, reached back to his past for this project. Fourteen residents from the co-op are a part of the exhibition.
Deloris Lee, 76, chose the word “forgiveness,” and had the words painted on her neck to resemble a large necklace. Participants chose the part of their body they wanted the word to appear, the colors applied in a graffiti style using a washable body paint.
“Quite often we have difficulty forgiving ourselves, and that makes it difficult sometimes to forgive others,” Lee said. “So I have found you need to be forgiven yourself, then it’s easier to forgive others. If you allow disappointment and hate to build, it produces a deep bitter root. If you want to be free, you have to release that.”
Lee learned how to take a selfie photo with the temporary tattoo so she could remember the day.
Neighbor Dan Bukinik chose the word “memories,” which Bishop painted on his forearm.
“We’re all to supposed to be senior citizens, and we’re all supposed to be passing on our knowledge of life, as it were,” he said. “Remembering things gets to be somewhat of a slight problem when you’re 76 years old.”
By day, Bishop, 47, is a graphics artist who also does body art. Walker, 52, is an artist and photographer who works with acrylic and recycled materials.
The two, who also have been linked romantically the past four years, co-founded 320 Body Art for people interested in having artwork painted on their bodies.
The duo secured many of their participants by approaching organizations like the Wartburg — a senior care center in Mount Vernon — the Yonkers YMCA, and various city departments like aging and parks. They also spread the word through family and friends.
Some of the 130 participants include state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer and Yonkers councilman Michael Sabatino. Bishop’s mother also is one of the people photographed.
The youngest model featured is 60. The eldest, at 102, is former Riverdalian Ida Keeling, a track and field star who set a record in 2011 for her age group running the 60-meter dash, Bishop said, and set another record in the 100-meter dash in 2014.
A $2,500 grant from the ArtsWestchester provided the seed money for the project and the duo set up a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000 to cover expenses like printing and framing the pictures. It also helped launch a show scheduled for Oct. 26 at the Blue Door Art Center, 13 Riverdale Ave., in Yonkers, that runs through Nov. 2.
“These words are not words that they just picked from the dictionary,” Bishop said. “They’re words that resonate with their lives and their stories really reflect that as well.”