Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 18
 
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
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“How You See Me”: HomeFront Clients’ Artwork Reflects Complex Perceptions of Those in Need

Ellen Gilbert

“This is the best exhibit I’ve seen in this gallery,” enthused a recent visitor in the guest book for “How You See Me,” the current exhibit, running through June 25, in the Bernstein Gallery at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Using words and images, “How You See Me” is a compelling testament to the fortitude of homeless women. “We all have these feelings,” wrote another visitor. “The best way to work through them is to put in on paper. Thanks for sharing!” Another visitor described the works on display as evidence of “raw talent.”

HomeFront is a non-profit agency that provides a comprehensive network of services for the poor and homeless in Mercer County. The women are racially, ethnically, socially, and economically diverse; the common denominator is their homelessness. ArtSpace, HomeFront’s art therapy program, seeks “to draw on creativity, and promote socialization, self-confidence and self-expression among individuals who might have low self-esteem because of poverty, homelessness, and family abuse,” according to program Director Ruth Ann Traylor. “The art and poetry in the exhibit explores the societal implications of stereotyping homeless people.”

“Takes away from you/Your eyes on me/I can feel the shame/Born into a welfare family/Am I to blame?/Inside I’m more/I feel you/I wish you knew,” wrote the author/artist of a piece in the exhibit called “Judging Me.”

According to recent research conducted by Amy Cuddy of Harvard University, Susan Fiske of Princeton University, and Peter Glick of Lawrence University, people tend to stereotype groups along two main dimensions: warmth and competence. Most groups are judged as warm and incompetent or competent and cold, eliciting ambivalent prejudices.

“Only economically disadvantaged groups like homeless people, welfare recipients, and poor people consistently fall in the incompetent-cold category,” said Ms. Traylor. “This stereotype leads to the worst kind of prejudice — disgust, contempt, and even dehumanization — because these groups are viewed as responsible for their misfortune.”

Ms. Traylor summarized this research for HomeFront clients participating in ArtSpace. In response, they created art describing how they think that others see them, how they feel about it, how they see themselves, and how they can change these images. “The works on display at the exhibit, a mixture of pain, anger, guilt, beauty, hope and resolution, are the results of this two-year process,” said Ms. Traylor.

The Bernstein Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ArtSpace exhibits will appear in the Straube Center in Pennington during July and August; the Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury Townhall during July; and in Trenton’s ArtWorks gallery in December.

ArtSpace welcomes donations of art supplies, including paint, paint brushes, paper, canvas, beads and bead supplies, and gift certificates to Michael’s or A.C. Moore.

For more information contact: ruthannt@homefrontnj.org.

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