Artist and professor Willie Baronet has bought more than 1,400 homeless signs over the past 24 years, incorporating them into art installations that raise awareness of homelessness.
Baronet will showcase his work at the upcoming "We Are All Homeless" exhibit in the Gallery for Contemporary Art in the Savannah Center at Indiana University Northwest in Gary. He started the project in 1993 when he encountered a homeless panhandler, a chance rendezvous that resulted in more than 30 art installations across the United States and England.
“Like many, I wrestled with whether or not I was doing good by giving them money,” Baronet said. “Mostly I struggled with my moral obligations, and how my own choices contributed in conscious or unconscious ways to the poverty I was witnessing. I struggled with the unfairness of the lives people are born into, the physical, mental and psychological handicaps. In my struggle, I avoided eye contact with those on the street, unwilling to really see them, and in doing so avoided seeing parts of myself. That began to change once I began asking them if they would sell their signs. My relationship to the homeless has been powerfully and permanently altered.”
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His work has been featured by international media outlets, including NPR, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and Al Jazeera America.
His exhibt at IUN, which runs from Aug. 26 through Oct. 18, documents a trip he and three filmmakers made in 2014 when they interviewed 100 homeless people living on the streets and bought more than 280 signs. It resulted in the award-winning documentary "Signs of Humanity" that explores issues of compassion and humanity and will be screened in conjunction with the exhibit at noon and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18 in the Bruce W. Bergland Auditorium.
Baronet also will give a talk at an artist reception between noon and 3 p.m. Oct. 7.
The IU Northwest Gallery for Contemporary Art by the IUN Bookstore is open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.