Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“Inocente”: A Young Artist’s Journey Through Homelessness

September 19, 2013

Maybe you remember this intriguing moment from the Academy Awards:  jubilant directors are on stage, their arms around a dark-haired young woman with a hummingbird tattoo peeking out from her ivory gown. As she dissolves into tears, one of the directors says, “Most of all, we want to thank this young lady. A year ago she was homeless, and now she’s standing here in front of all of you... and she’s an artist.

If you’re like me, you thought: “Who’s that girl"?

The girl is Inocente.  And in the film about her, we get to see her make her art, swirling the paint in sweeping, confident strokes.

Slowly, a world takes shape. The white of the canvas disappears behind vibrant greens, electric blues, and bubble-gum pinks.

And this world, like the others she paints, has a story.

That part is important.

“It’s not just a painting,” she tells us. “People should know there’s a story.”

 Ultimately, this is what makes Inocente’s story so powerful. She is unique, but her homelessness isn’t.

Inocente’s paintings are rooted in the hardship of homelessness, childhood abuse, and the alienation inherent in belonging to a family whose undocumented status prohibits an easy entry to the American Dream.

Spotlight on "Invisible" People

Inocente,” directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, chronicles the life of 15-year-old Inocente as she uses art to cope with her family’s homelessness in San Diego, Calif. 

Inocente Official Trailer from Shine Global on Vimeo.

The film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short this year.

It captures Inocente at a moment in her life when everything is about to change. Not only is she moving apart from her mother and into a teen homeless shelter, but she is preparing for her first art exhibition, facilitated by the arts mentorship program A Reason To Survive A Reason To Survive (ARTS).

“Inocente” also highlights the importance of working to end family homelessness, which many partners are committed to in Washington state. 

Inocente working on one of her paintings. Notice the bright colors and fantastical creations. Inocente says that if people knew her story “they would probably think that I should be painting...dark paintings.” Instead she does the exact opposite. Photo (c) Sean Fine.

Homelessness for Teens in America

There are 1.5 million homeless children living in America today.

Like Inocente, many of these children are in homeless families who have fallen on hard times.

Compounding the situation faced by these families–whether their homelessness is caused by domestic violence, medical bills, job loss or lack of affordable housing–is that family homelessness is often invisible.

Most Americans are not aware that homeless families are one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population–even as chronic individual homelessness has decreased.

Or that for the first time, the number of school-aged children who are homeless passed one million in the 2011-2012 school year.

Ultimately, this is what makes Inocente’s story so powerful. She is unique, but her homelessness isn’t.

Inocente reminds us to look beyond temporary situations  to see the value in everyone. When we look at Inocente now, what we see is not a homeless artist, but an artist who was once homeless.

What You can do to Help Kids Like Inocente

Share the film with others. Download “Inocente” from iTunes, or arrange a screening for your group.  Like “Inocente” on Facebook and follow the film on TwitterSupport the efforts of organizations like A Reason To Survive and others that work with young people who are homeless.

“Inocente” screens on Friday, September 27 at the Seattle Art Museum. Learn more or purchase tickets here. Inocente will also lead arts activities at the Gates Foundation Visitor Center Family Day on September 28.

 
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