When Zamari Vivens, 27, experienced homelessness a few years ago, he turned to art as an emotional outlet to cope with the uncertainty of his living situation. Instead of resorting to a harmful activity, Vivens says he produced photos and music to express his feelings. It’s been five years since he’s been homeless, but the art he created is part of a new exhibit aptly called “Transition.”
The exhibit, which opened January 17 at Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, highlights artwork from youth experiencing and transitioning out of homelessness. It seeks to bring humanity, livelihood, and an understanding of their struggles to the public and examine our culture’s view of youth homelessness.
Cocurated by Vivens and fellow artist Kasey White, the exhibit is in partnership with UIC and nonprofit One Heart One Soul, whose traveling art program, Called to Create, brought the curators together more than eight years ago—”Transition” marks the first time an exhibit is curated by former participants.
“This exhibit is entitled ‘Transition’ because I wanted people to understand that being homeless is not the end of the world,” Vivens says. “It’s showcasing perseverance and you can weather that storm. There’s still light at the end of the tunnel.”
Vivens’s art has been in galleries across the city and has sold to large companies like Walgreens. He started his own photography business in 2016, Mcfly Photography, and says he and White wanted to show artists of the same caliber—some of whom have also started their own businesses and worked with high-profile local musicians while transitioning out of homelessness.
White, 29, has experienced homelessness both with her family and then on her own—she has now lived in supportive housing for seven years. To her, transitioning looks like three pairs of shoes. One of her exhibit pieces, a photo called Walks of Life, features a pair of dirty shoes, a pair of cleaner shoes, and a pair of dress shoes.
“It tells its own story of so many different walks of life—you have the rough part and then you have the it’s-not-all-the-way-there part but it’s getting there,” White says. “Then you have the dress shoes, [that say] ‘OK, I’m here’ or ‘This is where I’m going.'”
White’s primary artistic media are spoken word, photography, and writing, which she says has helped her cope with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. She says most of her art comes out of bipolar or depressive episodes, which is when she is most drawn to create.
However, she wants viewers to know that “Transition” isn’t all about trauma or melancholy feelings. “Don’t walk in expecting to see something depressing because that’s not what this exhibit is,” she says. “You will see a lot of color and lively pieces.”
In addition to archived artwork, the exhibit lets viewers tap into audio interviews with youth, music, and spoken word. QR codes available for each piece provide accessibility to those who have visual or literacy challenges.
“We’ve always displayed [artwork] of our youth [and] been the voice for them, but it’s a very empowering time because two individuals are speaking up for themselves,” says Mireya Fouche, founder of One Heart One Soul.
Fouche says it was always her goal for youth to take the lead, and now timing has found a perfect slot for the stories. Scheduled exhibit tours are available and high schools are planning to attend, which she says is an exciting move to close the gap between youth experiencing homelessness and other homeless folks.
“Our hope is that if society can see the arts and creativity, that will highlight stronger than [what] someone sees in their circumstance,” she says. “You can hear their own perspective.” v