It’s certainly a shame that governments continue to treat homeless people like criminals and private property owners use dirty tricks to keep homeless people at bay. Thankfully there are socially conscious artists out there using their work to bring greater public awareness to the plight of homeless people. Here are three compelling art installations that give gallery-goers a new perspective on the homelessness epidemic:
1. Jani Leinonen, a conceptual artist originally from Finland, set up what looks like, from a distance, a fast food restaurant in Budapest, Hungary. Get closer to the sign, however, and you’ll see the Burger King logo actually says “Hunger King.”
The interactive installation invites people to stand in one of two lines, “Rich” and “Poor.” People in the rich queue are handed phony burgers and fries, along with information about income equality to get them thinking about the homeless epidemic in their city. Meanwhile, people in the poor line receive fast food boxes filled with real money – the daily minimum wage, to be precise. Because of the element of charity, the artwork has attracted a lot of actual homeless people to participate.
Though Leinonen is pleased with educating the populace about societal problems, he likes the added critique that the crowd itself generates. He points out that while homeless people are regularly forbidden from congregating on public streets and sidewalks, no one takes issue with people who block walkways for a consumerist pursuit like buying fast food.
2. New York City is known for celebrating its vibrant art scene, while simultaneously ignoring the ongoing homeless epidemic. For that reason, hometown artist Andres Serrano decided to blur the lines between art and poverty by photographing dozens of the city’s homeless (Serrano says he rejects that term, however) people and displaying the portraits in large form in public places in a project he calls Residents of New York.
It’s a brilliant concept since New Yorkers are trained to avoid eye contact with homeless people, but look right at the art. Suddenly, some of the same people commuters briskly walked by a few minutes prior are now reappearing again on the walls of the subway. It’s an opportunity for people to look more closely at those they ignore and recognize the humanity in them… something that hopefully carries over into a non-gallery setting, too.
3. For more than two decades now, artist Willie Baronet has committed himself to a “found” art project of sorts. Whenever he encounters homeless people with signs he finds fascinating, he offers to buy them from them, usually for $10. Altogether, he now has hundreds of signs that represent a diversity of stories from impoverished people throughout the country.
In recent years, Baronet began displaying these signs as collages and sculptures in galleries. Though people tend to pay little attention to these signs when they encounter them in real life, they’re confronted with the needs and emotions of those down on their luck and are forced to reflect on the circumstances behind it. “I know this makes some people uncomfortable,” Baronet acknowledged. “Sometimes I like creating art that furthers that.”
Photos the work of the artists.