Notes from the Chicago Scene: The Collages of Emma Kennedy
Chicago-area photographer and artist creates timeless feminist commentary with retro imagery
by Katie Ingegneri
Collages and original photos by Emma Kennedy
Meet Emma Kennedy
I first encountered Chicago-area native Emma Kennedy’s collage work via social media, as I had met her and her brother TJ at rock n roll shows around the city. I’ve always loved seeing collage work by various artists, but Emma’s immediately grabbed me as she combined retro imagery with powerful, timeless narratives relating to gender, sexuality, feminism, and the timeless concerns of what it means to be a woman, whether in 1940 or 2018. She forces the viewer to confront sexism and find uncomfortable resonance in the many forms it continues to take. I thought it would be interesting to feature her here in Houseshow and learn more about the process that informs her work.
Emma is also an excellent photographer and has taken great live photos around Chicago’s music scene, including at Houseshow’s Two-Year Anniversary Party at Cole’s Bar in Logan Square in May 2017, which I was really happy about so some of those are included here as well. Check out her work and probably hire her to make your album cover or something. I know I would!
Katie Ingegneri: Where are you based?
Emma Kennedy: I’m based in the south suburbs of Chicago, IL.
How did you get started making collages, and what inspires them?
I’d always been very artistic. I can recall being a kid and ripping up pages of the Chicago Tribune to glue on pieces of cardboard and hang on my walls. I started seriously focusing on collage as a medium in 2014. The inspiration for many of my collages comes from my own experiences.
Where do you find the materials you work with?
The material I work with all comes from vintage magazines ranging from 1920s through the 1970s.
A lot of your art prioritizes a distinctly feminine/feminist point of view. Is this a conscious decision? What are you trying to convey?
It is absolutely a conscious decision. It has been always important to me to emphasize on my experiences as a woman. One of the reasons I use old magazines as a material is because I’m fascinated by how the media portrays women. The sexism is especially blatant in older magazines. The sole purpose of my message as an artist is to make the viewer uncomfortable.
By not talking about our struggles and avoiding the things that make us uncomfortable we are sugarcoating the truth. I really value honesty within art.
Your work also contains a lot of retro imagery with a timeless feel — situations and emotions that resonate today. How did this aesthetic come about?
As I said prior, one of the reasons I use old magazines is because I am fascinated by the blatant sexism, but I also just love the style and look of vintage material. I get questioned a lot about the use of color and lack of color in my work and I do think there is this connection between black and white distressed imagery and distressing emotions. My art is often sad and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it resonates with people.
Do you do any other kinds of art?
I do many kinds of two-dimensional art! Although, my main focuses are collage and photography. Concert photography is something I became more involved in as I got older. I fell in love with the Chicago music scene and capturing people in motion doing something they love. (Editor’s note: The photos below of Luke Henry and Modern Vices were from Houseshow’s Two-Year Anniversary Party at Cole’s Bar in May 2017. So glad Emma took pictures!)
Do you have any specific goals with your collage project?
I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a “project.” It’s more of, in general, my way of self-expression. I imagine I’ll continue using collage as a medium until I can’t move my hands any longer.
I do, however, have many ideas for series with collage. One in specific is called “Pick Up Lines,” about the relationship of love and mental illness.