When you step into the Shotwell Avenue home that Adrienne Roberts rents with two housemates a steep staircase greets you and bends away slowly to the right.
Photographs line the left wall as you ascend the stairs, and the picture display feels familiar. You expect to see family portraits; all awkward smiles and cheesy backgrounds.
But if you happen to climb that staircase tonight or Saturday, you’ll find hauntingly beautiful photographs by Jason Hanasik of queer men in the Castro and the places they frequent.
Continue through the upstairs hall into Roberts’s bedroom and you’ll realize, suddenly, you’re in a gallery.
It’s part of Roberts’ alternative-art exhibition, “Home Is Something I Carry With Me,” showing the work of 40 Bay Area artists this weekend in three Mission neighborhood homes: 951 Shotwell St., 348 Shotwell St. and 3352 24th St.
“It’s asking a few questions; how do we define home and how do we know where we belong?” said Roberts, 26, sitting cross-legged on the red shag carpet in the living room of 3352 24th St.
These are questions Roberts, a sculptor by training, has been grappling with since 2006, when she took a cross-country road trip that ended in post-Katrina New Orleans. On her way, Roberts — a native San Franciscan who grew up in Marin — spent time at her parents’ childhood homes in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and in New Hampshire, at the house her great-grandparents built.
“It was such a crazy thing, to be walking down the same block, turning around the same corner that your ancestors did,” said Roberts. (Her parents met and fell in love in the Haight in the late 1960s and never looked back.)
When she reached New Orleans, Roberts joined what she describes as her generation’s “mass exodus” to rebuild the Gulf city destroyed in 2005 — a migration she compares with her parents’ move to San Francisco four decades prior.
There, she was confronted with questions about the role she — an outsider of a different demographic and background — could and should play in reconstructing a community.
“The work we were doing was very important,” she said, “but it didn’t come without a lot of complexities.”
The issues she’s addressing in the exhibition are “inherently personal and political,” said Roberts, who adds that she’s as much an activist as an artist. The pieces explore ideas of belonging and community; borders and property; migration and memory; poverty and privilege.
In one piece, hung in the living room at 3352 24th St., Claire Kessler-Bradner, an artist and teacher, mapped the Noe Valley neighborhood where she grew up and recently returned.
The series of nine street grids show the same area, but on each one red stickers map out different elements. One map shows all the places that have vanished since she left; another, all the landmarks that remain. A different grid maps all the things she didn’t remember right, and another lets the visitor place their own pins and record their unique memories of Noe Valley’s streets.
In a photograph down the hall by Josef Jacques a woman waters the lush lawn of her shiny new home in a Merced sub-division, while next door an abandoned half-constructed house looms—a remnant of the housing boom and crash that engulfed that city.
“Home” was funded by a $3,500 grant from Southern Exposure, and includes artists working in every medium. It seems particularly well suited to the Mission, where the cheap housing that drew immigrants from the 1950s to the 1980s is gradually changing as real estate prices jumped in the mid-1990s.
In the upstairs hallway of 3352 24th St. you can find scenes from some of the neighborhood’s most recognizable spots. They’re contained in Cindy De Losa shadowboxes — part of a series called “Home for the Homies” that she started two years ago. The boxes’ interiors are lined with color photographs depicting streetscapes populated with plastic Homie figurines.
“Home is your friends, your neighborhood, the places you go,” said De Losa, when she spoke with Mission Loc@l earlier this week in front of Precita Eyes, where she’s a manager.
“They show the real deal; just everybody hanging out,” De Losa said of her boxes. They put people in the places they love; “everyone always tries to find themselves and their friends” in the little scenes, she said.
For the subjects of Veronica Majano and Kari Orvik’s film, which will premiere at the exhibition’s film screening on Friday night, the Mission’s streets are home.
Majano works at Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, a drop-in center and homeless services provider on Capp Street. The film combines portraits of four of Majano’s clients with audio interviews.
“You can have a sense of home without a house,” said Majano. “Actually, I think they have more of a sense of home than I do because they’ve really thought about it; it doesn’t come automatically.”
Home, for those in the film, was a place that felt safe; where they were comfortable and accepted; where they had a community.
Roberts’ exhibit — a year in the making — will be open for only two days since the houses’ inhabitants need their space back.
“It’s a little disappointing,” Roberts admitted. But she’s staying true to the concept of the show by using a genuinely lived-in space, she added.
“I want people to come in and to reflect on their own ideas of what home is; their own position in relation to their environment,” said Roberts.
“Maybe it will lend itself to some sense of responsibility to their community.”
Open houses at 951 Shotwell St. and 3352 24th St.: Fri., Sept. 4, 4-8pm, and Sat., Sept. 5, Noon-5pm. Film screening: Fri., Sept. 4, 9 pm at 348 Shotwell St. All events are free.