Using art to get people thinking differently about homelessness

Following some impromptu conversations with people experiencing homelessness, RMIT advertising student Beth Gibson realised that the stories she was hearing did not align with the stories she heard about homelessness in the media. With an assignment looming, Beth and fellow students Tess Dawson, Emma Hardy and Caitlin Shannon decided to use their communication skills to change how people think about homelessness – to see individuals rather than a concept. The result is an art exhibition titled The Full Picture, which incorporates recorded interviews with people experiencing homelessness, and artists’ interpretations of their photographs.

Whilst all four students had some understanding of homelessness before starting the project, Emma says she didn’t fully realise how complex the issue was.

“One of the things that stood out in particular for me was recognising how many of the women had become homeless through domestic violence,” she said.

“It was absolutely shocking to listen to person after person tell these stories, and they were all lovely and amazing people. It was completely humbling.”

Emma believes two significant barriers to the general public understanding homelessness are misinformation and a lack of empathy.

“There’s a misconception that everyone who’s homeless has an addiction and it’s their own fault which just isn’t true,” she said.

“But even if that is true for some people, the fact that we can see people going through these things and not have any empathy for that is a really big issue.”

To try to make people understand that people who experience homelessness are people with the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, the portraits are exhibited with the audio of the interviews that were used to inspire the artworks. According to Emma, including the audio was integral to the exhibition.

“When you put yourself in a position to look at art, it’s a contemplative mindset,” she said.

“So by adding the audio to the paintings, instead of projecting the viewer’s ideas, it forces the voices of the interviewees into the artwork.”

The ultimate aim of the exhibition is to give people an understanding of homelessness, without having to go through it themselves, according to Emma.

“But beyond that, it’s about having an understanding that homelessness doesn’t define a person, it’s an experience that they go through.

“I think that’s really important for people to understand.”

The exhibition The Full Picture can be viewed online and is being shown at Lentil As Anything, 229-233 Barkly Street, Footscray until Saturday 11th October. Details are on the Facebook event page.