Sparking Conversation with Homeless Statues

April 4, 2018

A statue of a homeless person holding onto two shopping carts outside Deihl Hall.Outside Deihl Hall, a homeless figure pushes one shopping heavily loaded cart ahead of them, while pulling a second. Around the corner, outside the shiny Science & Learning Center, a second figure sits still on a bench by a cardboard sign reading, “God bless.”

They’re not real—they’re statues—but Jada Henry ’18 hopes the installation brings people’s attention to a very real problem.

On the well-kept Whittier College campus, the plight can seem distant. Surrounded by beauty and new development, Henry felt separated from the dirt and grime of what tens of thousands of people are going through all around her.

“It was kind of like this little sanctuary, and I kind of wanted to rough it up a little bit,” she said. “A lot of people have that idea that it’s not in my backyard—but it is. It is. It’s right over there.”

The statues are effective. In her space within the Wardman Art Center, she built their bodies out of metal and clothed them in jackets and pants that even second-hand stores couldn’t sell. The transformation from raw materials to roughed-up statues is so effective that art professor David Sloan, who advised Henry on the project, has momentarily mistaken them for the real deal.

“I walked past one of the figures many times a day and still, every second or third day, I’m absorbed in something and as I walk by I’m alarmed for a moment, thinking I’m about to bump into someone,” Sloan said.

Henry’s outdoor installation is formidable in size for a student project, Sloan said, adding that he believes that the statues will be effective at prompting awareness and conversation.

Henry adds that she hopes the statues also inspire people to volunteer to help the homeless. The issue is widespread in the United States, but people can start with their home, first.

“It starts on campus. It starts on the street across from you. It starts with everyday life and what you see,” she said. “If I can help one person at least be aware of the problems that we’re facing, or be able to bring more kindness, then that would be a major goal and I would be happy with my life.”

Now only weeks from graduation, Henry hopes to apply for internships and take some time to see the world before pursuing a Ph.D. in art.