UVU art gallery exposes homelessness in Utah

“No Longer Marginal,” an art gallery at UVU, uses portrait photography to shed light on the problem of homelessness in Utah.

Photo by Chase Martin

Held on the fourth floor of the UVU Gunther Technology building is a new art gallery called “No Longer Marginal.” Created by Mariela Pedraza and Isaac Long, the gallery is a series of black-and-white (Pedraza) and color (Long) photograph portraits of the homeless in Utah. On a plaque in the exhibition, Pedraza and Long describe their mission as being, “we want you to discover the beauty of those that are rarely seen.”

The gallery seeks to expose the growing homelessness problem in Utah. In Utah’s annual data report on homelessness, it found that in 2022 the amount of homelessness has seen an increase of about 7% since 2020 due to COVID-19. Also, the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time was up by 14%. Utah has seen this increase in homelessness despite the fact that spending costs to combat it has increased more than 600% as found in a 2021 report by the Utah State Auditor’s Office.

However, beyond simply drawing attention to this growing problem, the exhibition focuses on the human element that can be lost when focusing solely on the data points. It is one thing to discuss homelessness through the cold lens of reports, and a whole other thing to see it firsthand in the photography presented here in this gallery.

Oftentimes the only exposure people have to the homeless is in passing while flying by in their car, usually too consumed with their own tasks to pay them any attention. And when they do, they rarely look beyond the surface to see the light and beauty contained within. “No Longer Marginal” calls attention to these people as individuals with their own struggles and stories to tell.

When looking at the photographs present throughout the gallery, it is immediately apparent that great care was taken to portray their subjects in a transparent manner, capturing them as they are, and as one might see them on the street, rather than attempting to stage them in any way. These are people that are often ignored and pushed to the side but here they are presented in an intimate way that is impossible to gloss over.

Pedraza and Long could have chosen to focus on other aspects of homelessness, such as their living conditions, but they instead chose to focus on the people with close-up pictures of their faces and nothing else. Not even their clothing — an important issue considering that winter is quickly approaching — is given any particular attention.

It seems that when talking about homelessness it is always in regard to one of these issues surrounding them, and while it is important to address them, it is almost as if the people suffering through these conditions aren’t given any consideration. By focusing on their faces, it gives each of these marginalized individuals the attention and humanity they deserve rather than defining them by the politics surrounding the issues they face.

Pedraza and Long state, “The unsheltered have a light that is hard to extinguish.” It is exactly that light that is present throughout all of the subjects in the photographs. Pedraza and Long successfully captured something which is often missed when discussing homelessness. Their message will leave a lasting impression on anyone who takes the time to stop by and see.

“No Longer Marginal” is on display from Nov. 8 to Nov. 18. There will be a public reception with the artists on Nov. 17 from 5 to 7 p.m.

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