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Creativity: Artist Mary Hamill's art becomes a change-agent. Part 2

Resident Scholar at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center Mary Hamil prepares her mult-media presentation of the homeless at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.
Resident Scholar at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center Mary Hamil prepares her mult-media presentation of the homeless at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.
Mary Hamill

Even before Mary Hamill's position as the Information Officer for Project Hope aiding war-torn Cambodia, she was drawn to the plight of the under-represented. Enlisting a Brandeis student film maker Seth Bernstein in the Brandeis University's Student/Scholar partnership, Hamill, Resident Scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center, loaned movie cameras to Boston's homeless to narrate their life stories. As one of the pioneers in participatory photo-based art regarding social issues, she began this project in the 1990s and eventually featured the imagery and the audio recordings of the homeless into an installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Sanders Theatre, Harvard; and the Massachusetts State House. A Multimedia presentation with their voices and images and music composed by Resident Scholar Ruth Lomon was sung live by the Boston Secession. It was featured at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University for the benefit of the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund in 2006.

The installation at the MFA occupied the Grossman Gallery with a walk in small room sized structure. The walls are composed of film footage so that each frame shot by Boston’s homeless can be viewed. A hand made bench invites visitors to sit and trigger recordings of street sounds and listen to the voices of the homeless narrating their stories. A wall hung camera records the visitors’ reactions and is sent to a storefront TV at the Cambridge Community Television in Central Square. Now the homeless can view how their life affects the visitors to the galleries. Innovative for its collaboration and for its participatory feedback, the exhibit “regardisregard” illustrates both how we regard and disregard the plight of those less fortunate than us living in plain sight.

Hamill carried this further with political participation at Boston’s State House where attendees were given the actual pictures of the homeless to represent as they stood in solidarity with those who were disregarded no more. At least on this day, when Boston’s Homeless Day was declared, in no small part due to Mary Hamill.

See the video of the performance of Mary Hamill's "regardisregard." Videos of the homeless are shown against a backdrop of Boston Secession performing music composed by Ruth Lomon, all Resident Scholars at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center. http://vimeo.com/3380346

In an interview at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, Hamill credits her social conscience with her "Catholic upbringing [which] definitely created a sense that I needed to help people who were less privileged than I.. . . This was no trivial matter." Even after she majored in religion and became a secular humanist, she worked in education "with the under-served populations of the inner city[eventually switching] to making art, because the route to individual art gave me more freedom." Her trip to the Venice Biennale with artists dealing with socially significant matters developed a major shift in her art.

Her exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts including a structure holding walls of film from the homeless which came out of her "concern with the widening gap between the rich and the poor, especially on a global basis." She immerses herself in the creative process by "working very actively on a particular area for days and weeks and months . . . exploring the concern intellectually and emotionally [until] it takes a shape that's not quite what I thought." The creative process can of its own volition create something that she declares "becomes more effective than what I had envisioned."

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