Not one to shy away from trying something different, local activist and journalist Audrey Galex, founder of the Abandoned Mattress Project, is displaying her unusual hobby in art galleries this month.
About four years ago, Galex was volunteering at a Presbyterian night shelter where she observed people placing single mattresses on the floor for that night’s sleeping. It was that, she surmised, or flattened cardboard boxes on the streets and under bridges where the homeless usually sleep. “I’d see homeless people and I’d see mattresses on the side of the road, and I realized that mattresses were a form of metaphor for what these people needed,” she said. “Mattresses are a symbol of having a home,” she stated.
Galex started photographing mattresses wherever she saw them, seeking different angles and contrasts, highlighting fabrics and materials, in close-ups and in wide shots. “A mattress on the side of a road is trash, but you can find art in them,” she said.
She realized that “we spend so much time on mattresses. We are born on them, die on them, cry, sleep, there’s so much emotional life spent on mattresses. And yet, we don’t repurpose them when we are done with them.”
Galex became known for her photo hobby. “Almost every day I receive photos of mattresses from friends. It’s invited people to notice.” Now her mattress collection numbers over 500.
When Galex decided to display the photos in art galleries, however, she had to winnow down that number to about 30. The Galeria Regina in Oakhurst held an artist reception for the Abandoned Mattress Project Jan. 10, and the Aimee Jewelry and Fine Art Gallery on Ponce de Leon Avenue, will display the photos Jan. 23-31.
The photos, selling for on average $100, will raise awareness of the plight of homeless in Atlanta. “The sight of an abandoned mattress invites us to reflect on people who have no place to call home because of the high cost of housing,” she said.
Amy Elfersy, owner of the Aimee Jewelry and Fine Art Gallery, said that she usually only exhibits fine art and jewelry, but that Galex’s project “hit a nerve for me and I want to give back to society.” Elfersy, who used to work for the Montreal Jewish Vocational Services, said having a gallery was always a dream of hers, which she realized six years ago when she opened her shop on Ponce de Leon.
“I grew up outside New York City and I was always drawn to beauty,” she said. Elfersey pointed out that the proceeds from the sale of Galex’s framed photos will support the Initiative for Affordable Housing, which helps metro Atlanta families overcome housing insecurity with comprehensive social services.
This is not the first exhibition Elfersy has held for a cause important to her, however. She exhibited “art from the heart” that cardiac patients painted under the tutelage of master artist and Emory cardiac patient Weyland Moore, with proceeds going to the Emory Cardiology Department. Of the Abandoned Mattress Project, she said, “it’s a very tear-jerking idea.”
As for Galex, mattresses apparently have special meaning. Her family was in the mattress manufacturing business for three generations, including her great-grandfather, grandparents and father.