Adam Shires is giving the wider community an insight into the reality of homelessness by presenting a black-and-white view of an issue that has countless shades of grey.
The Melbourne-based artist is partnering with the Salvos next month to stage People of the Pavement, an exhibition of 13 charcoal portraits of people experiencing homelessness.
These illustrations, however, are more than just faces; each person’s story will be featured alongside their portraits.
Margaret Coombridge, corps officer (minister) and general manager at the Salvos’ Brunswick centre in inner Melbourne, says Adam aims to inspire greater connection and empathy with people who are often passed by and ignored.
“He’s shining a spotlight on a huge issue that impacts so many of the people we see in our community centre,” she says.
“His portraits provide insight into the experiences of those experiencing homelessness. He’s given them a voice to share their stories, and we’re excited to partner with him in this way.”
Brunswick Salvos’ support programs express The Salvation Army Vision Statement to live, love and fight alongside those suffering hardship and injustice to transform lives with the love of Jesus.
They provide practical aid, referral and advocacy services, a café offering low-cost, healthy meals, activity groups and a recreation program for people with limited opportunities.
“I spent many Sundays sitting and chatting with people at the Salvos centre to further my understanding of the issues they face,” Adam says.
“I walked around the city and surrounding suburbs engaging with folk I met on the street. I’d sit with them to talk for a while and hear their stories, and tell them about my exhibition."
“Some I see every day, and our relationships have developed into more than just a passing chat and a brief glimpse into their world. With others, because of the transient nature of their lifestyle, it’s sometimes hard to reconnect.”
Adam took photographs (with permission), which he transformed into charcoal portraits, spending an average of 25 hours on each piece. He found those who were willing to share their faces in the exhibition were also willing to share their stories.
“Mostly they wanted to break the misconception people have of them to show that they
are people, too — they are all someone’s daughter, son, brother or sister,” he says.
“A lot of them want to raise awareness about their situation and be heard as an under-voiced community. Some wanted to show the plight that can affect humanity; others were angry at a system they feel has failed them and keeps them oppressed, while others were proud of their autonomy. But overall they all wanted to stop the fear; the fear they face living in such vulnerable circumstances, and the fear people have of them.”
Adam feels privileged to have been entrusted with these stories.
“It’s made me very aware of the illusion of security we all live in and how quickly things can turn from bad to worse,” he says.
“Yet I’ve seen how generous those in such a plight can be to others. The number of times I was offered food by these people who have so little was touching and inspiring.“
I also have a new appreciation of the power a simple gesture can make — a smile here, a nod there — recognition and validation that can be so easily overlooked.”
Margaret observes that the portraits expose ‘head-on’ the homelessness that is faced by more than 100,000 people around the nation every night.
“We’re excited to partner with Adam. It’s collaboration at its best to work together through Adam’s artwork to raise awareness of the crisis, while letting people know that our community centre isa safe space open to all in need,” she says.
People of the Pavement, Adam’s first solo exhibition, will be held at The Meat Market Stables, 3 Blackwood St, North Melbourne, from 1–12 April. Exhibition hours: opening night, 1 April, 7–11pm; 2–11April, 9am–7pm; 12 April, 9am–noon.
Three of the portraits will be auctioned on opening night, with all profits being donated to The Salvation Army.
For more information, visit adamshires.com. To make a donation to support those experiencing homelessness or to find help, visit www.salvationarmy.org.au