Anyone who sees the original version of “Our Senna” – the life-size bust of Ayrton recognizes at first sight the ancient yearnings of a very popular chapter of Western art Western art: the inspiration in Greco-Roman sculpture eager for verisimilitude, the theme of the hero’s eternity, the recognition of a face portrayed in what is not skin.
However, it is extremely rare, and possibly unheard of in art historiography, that a bust is born from a conversation between two mothers. Or, to put it definitively, from the pact between a mum who is harbouring a longing for another mum, her granddaughter, experiencing the creative power of a pregnancy.
For the last 30 years, Neyde Senna has been zealously organising the image archives of the Memorial to her son, Ayrton Senna. After so many tributes to her son, she couldn’t hide her longing to see what, to her eyes, would be a sculpture as faithful as possible to the beloved face of her “Beco”, as intimately recognisable as he would be to her. In 2014, Neyde made a decision: she turned to her granddaughter Lalalli Senna, who was building a career in the visual arts.
“It made me feel insecure and honoured at the same time, because she didn’t just want
just a face similar to Ayrton’s, she wanted to make a memory of her son tangible that wasn’t in the photos,” says Lalalli.
Finding the right expression required Lalalli to spend hours and hours searching through the Memorial’s photograph collections. Then the initial creative process, on a digital platform, was abandoned due to unsatisfactory results. It was only in the malleability of plasticine did Lalalli begin to give shape to the Ayrton she had in her memory, finding with her hands some traits of the world champion that are not so obvious in photos: the athletic neck, the firm chin, and even the slightly uneven lips, a consequence of a viral paralysis contracted by the driver in 1985, before his debut for Lotus.
“It was funny that my grandmother got more quickly satisfied than I was,” says Lalalli. “She didn’t want me to continue because she was afraid something would be lost. But I only convinced myself when I was already working on the extended project, which came to be called Nosso Senna”. At the time, Lalalli was still racing against time. Apart from moving to the United States, she was also carrying her first child in the final weeks of her pregnancy.
The work received the broad approval of the Senna family, especially Mrs Neyde. However, the first bronze replica of the sculpture did not remain in São Paulo, where the matriarch lives, but in the Vatican.
The idea of giving the bust to Pope Francis, known for his passion for sports, came from Italian banker Gian Claudio Giovannone, Ayrton Senna Institute’s representative in Europe, and that was promptly accepted. On 18 April 2019, the Thursday of Easter Week, the Argentinian pontiff received a yellow-green helmet and the bust from Bianca Senna (Lalalli’s sister), which made the sculpture pass another test: it was readily recognised by the pedestrians queuing in St Peter’s Square and by the Vatican security guards, who quickly accelerated the passage for the tributes. Today, listed in the contemporary collection of the Vatican Museums alongside pieces by famous (and still very male) names such as Van Gogh, Marc Chagall and Pietro Ruffo, “My Ayrton”, which was the first step in the celebrated “Our Senna”, can be described as a very unique work in memory of the motor racing genius, born out of a doubly maternal gesture of love.
"It made me feel insecure and honoured at the same time, because she didn't just want just a face similar to Ayrton's, she wanted to make a memory of her son tangible that wasn't in the photos,"
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