• Erica Smith

Facing Homelessness

The following is the curatorial statement for the exhibit Facing Homelessness, which opens at 5:30 p.m. at the Springfield Art Association (700 N. 4th Street).

Facing Homelessness features a variety of portraits of people in Springfield, Illinois, who are experiencing homelessness or have chosen to work at Helping Hands, a local agency that provides emergency shelter services. Bringing together local artists and local people affected by this social and health issue, Facing Homelessness depicts the humanity, dignity, and individuality of each person as he or she confronts homelessness and strives to overcome the personal and social factors that led to it.

The artists in Facing Homelessness live in Central Illinois (with the exception of two Springfield Art Association artists-in-residence), and many are members of the Springfield Art Association (SAA). Each artist met with the person whose portrait they created first to get to know individual characteristics about their subject. An unexpected outcome of this project was the importance of the personal connection for both the artist and the subject. People who are rarely asked about themselves, other than questions related to their homelessness, began to see themselves differently through these conversations and the experience of being a work of art.

The works in Facing Homelessness aspire to capture not only the image of the person, but also the essence of that individual. The act of creating the portrait is the sharing of the story of individuals who often are lumped together as “the homeless;” people who become invisible as individuals, instead viewed as figures floating in a social discourse filled with stereotypes, blame, and misunderstanding. People who are homeless must not be defined by that one characteristic of themselves. They are individuals who have a life story that deserves to be heard; they are survivors with strength and grace under circumstances most of us never have had to face.

A testimony to the unique identity of every human being, Facing Homelessness is a gentle examination of a community where the boundary between “us” and “them” fades as we learn to see each other as heroes of our own stories, regardless of our social standing. As contemporary Canadian portraitist David Goatley writes, “A portrait affirms; it gives the gift of self to its subject. It says: Yes, you are worth spending this time over, your story deserves to be told, you should be recorded for you will not pass this way again.”

Helping Hands of Springfield is indebted to the Springfield Art Association, the participating artists, and the people experiencing homelessness who were willing to be a part of Facing Homelessness. They have shared these stories, and given the gift of self, to illuminate the beauty of human existence even in the face of struggle.

Organized by Helping Hands of Springfield and the Springfield Art Association, the show includes 19 works and is exhibited at the SAA Gallery (700 N. 4th Street) from January 3-23, 2020.

(Accompanying image is a portrait by artist Felicia Olin and is featured in the Facing Homelessness exhibit.)

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