Willie Baronet: Artistic Exploration of Humanity
What does home mean to you? Is it the place that you call your own? The place where the people who mean so much to you are? Is it even a place?
Everyone knows the feeling of home, the place-or the people-that make someone feel safe and loved unconditionally. This feeling raises the question of what exactly it means to be without a home. What does it mean to be homeless? What does it mean to not have a single secure place? Some may not know what the next 24 hours of their life will look like, some may feel at home on the streets, and some may be deprived of life's bare necessities.
Living out on the streets is usually just the in-between. It is the moment after you slip on the floor, and you just lie there before you can get up. Slipping on ice, however, makes it just that much more difficult to get back up on your feet. Not many people -or, rather, not enough- understand how challenging it is to be without anywhere to live, survive, and find a way back up. There still may not be enough people who really understand, but Willie Baronet has shed light on the people who almost invisible to many people. He has created a space in the minds of many for understanding the homeless through something that is ubiquitous no matter what, underlying everything; art.
The prologue to Baronet’s “We Are All Homeless” journey begins 21 years before the trip commences. In 1993, he bought his first sign. Since then, he has not stopped and does not intend to. Willie Baronet buys signs from the homeless, and during the month of July 2014, he went on a trip from Seattle to New York City: 31 days, 24 cities, and hundreds of signs.
January 8th, 2015, Baronet’s exhibit of “We Are All Homeless” opened, displaying some of the over 1,800 homeless signs he had collected over 22 years. His film, “Signs of Humanity,” documented every step of his way. Baronet started it all because “I did it because I didn’t like how I felt when I saw someone on the street. I felt awkward, I also felt guilty for ignoring them. I realized I needed to begin a journey to understand it all. Why they were homeless, why I felt this way, and if there was something I could do to change that feeling.”
Willie Baronet started drawing as a child, and art was always important to him. When he first began buying signs, he did not know what he was going to do. Nonetheless, he knew he was going to use art. His extraordinary and moving film says so much about humanity and provokes even more of it. Baronet speaks about how painfully simple it was to find the homeless in every city, how every sign depicted their suffering, and how grateful every single person was for the ten to twenty dollars they earned from selling their sign. Their genuine smiles are weaved throughout the film.
Still, today, the streets are lined with people who are without a home, people who are in pain, and people stuck in the in-between. Also today, however, Willie Baronet is buying signs and raising awareness for the homeless, and his film continues making an impact on people all over the country.
“I woke up this morning, so I’m doing great.” -Lance, Cincinnati
“‘Last sign.’ ‘When are you gonna stop?’ ‘Stop what, buying signs? Never. Maybe when I run out of money.’”