Homeless Artists and Students Redefine the House and Home

The idea of “home” is one that is easy to take for granted—a place of consistency and security that remains the same no matter how life changes otherwise. However, for many, taking home for granted is not an option; the question “What is home?” requires more reflection. This question was the theme of the show “House, Home”in the Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH) last Thursday. In this exhibition, the concepts of home and domesticity were examined through the artwork of Harvard students and Boston’s homeless or formerly homeless artists.

“House, Home” displayed work from 23 student artists and 12 artists from St. Francis House, the largest day shelter in New England. St. Francis offers an open access art studio, complete with paints, plasters, and even Saori looms for weaving—all part of their Expressive Therapy Program. According to the shelter website, the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio at St. Francis House serves between 25 and 30 people a day, five days a week, every week of the year. Linda E. Dolph, an art therapist from St. Francis House, spoke at the Thursday event about the importance of the art studio to the shelter’s therapy programs. The proceeds from the sales of student artwork at the SOCH went directly to the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, while the profits of sales for St. Francis House art went directly to the artists.

“House, Home,” curated by Kristen L. Cronon ’12, included a mixture of photography, painting, drawing, film, and other media. Cronon said of her inspiration for the show: “My work at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter is part of [why] I reflect on what makes something a home. What are the resources and people you [depend] on when you don’t have a physical home to create that sense of groundedness.” In this vein, Cronon selected pieces that felt personal and specific to the artist.

“House, Home” was displayed with impeccable design, thanks to the efforts of Cronon and Qichen Zhang ’12, who were in charge of arranging the evening’s exhibit. The SOCH Penthouse’s floor-to-ceiling windows were a clean, black background for the suspended frames of artwork. Tthe window panes lent the gallery a simple, minimalist feel and threw the art itself into sharp focus.

The artwork was arranged not by artist or subject, but in groups that best juxtaposed the works. The juxtaposition of “In the Closet” by Loretta Jarak, a St. Francis House artist, and “2511” by Caroline M. Cuse ’15 challenged the conventional definition of home. “2511” was a photograph of the boxy, unwelcoming white exterior of a home with small windows and a gravel yard, while “In the Closet,” an abstract painting with no distinct structures, contained only two human figures.

Also present at the show last Thursday was guest of St. Francis House and painter Efon D. Elad. At “House, Home” Elad exhibited a painting called “The pass by the city lake,” a colorful depiction of a car on a street carved into the rock of a hillside overlooking a city and a lake. Reflecting on his beloved home, Elad spoke about his experience as an immigrant from Cameroon. He said, “My greatest ambition growing up was to come to the United States like Eddie Murphy.” Elad delivered a short but touching talk about how losing his job making sheetrock turned his world upside down, and how he found solace in painting at St. Francis House. “When I started painting, it was like nothing else existed,” said Elad. In this vein, “House, Home” showed that an artistic sense of “home” can transcend ownership of a house key.

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