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Student photography project tells refugee stories

By KATE SNYDER

Community Arts Center

A new exhibit at the Community Arts Center seeks to explore the struggles and triumphs of Kentucky’s resettled refugees. “My New Kentucky Home” is a photography project created by two Centre College students. Emma Jackson and Hibah Siddiqui participated in Centre’s Creative Thinking Immersion program, which is designed to allow students to lead self-designed research projects focused on real-world issues that impact the community.

With the financial and logistical support of the college, Jackson and Siddiqui spent their summer interviewing and photographing refugees living in Kentucky. The students worked with Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Catholic Charities and the International Center in Bowling Green to connect with refugee families. They visited English-as-a-Second-Language classrooms and talked with teachers and students. They interviewed a total of 40 people, 15 of whom are featured in the final exhibit.

This fall, Jackson approached the Arts Center about displaying the project as an exhibit. “Our original goal had been to put the interviews onto a website and archive them, but that got challenging because of privacy concerns,” says Jackson.

Arts Center Creative Director Brandon Long was excited to host the exhibit.

“Immigration was one of the most relevant topics in this year’s election cycle, and I think that this exhibit is an absolute must-see.  Each person in these photographs is absolutely beautiful in their own way, and people need to see refugees not as ‘the huddled masses’ but as individuals.”

One photograph is of a serious-eyed young man looking straight into the camera. Beside his picture is a short narrative that provides a glimpse into his story. “I left Cuba…and I had to cross seven countries to get here. I am not going to talk about violence, because I don’t like to remember that, the things that happened. [Coming to the US] has been my whole goal. I am full of hope. You can bend your destiny and forge your own way.”

“The holiday season is all about reflection and being thankful for what you have,” says Long. “Showing these refugees who have come from such hardship allows us to reflect on how fortunate we are to have all the freedoms that we enjoy.”

The project was a great learning experience for its young creators.

Jackson says “I was surprised by how eager people were to talk to us. Everyone said it would be hard — that people wouldn’t trust us. But we actually had more people want to be interviewed than we could handle. They valued having a voice and we gave them the chance to tell their story and be heard.”

Jackson was also encouraged to hear how genuinely happy the refugee families are to be here and how welcome they have felt by Kentuckians.

“I think the negative rhetoric you sometimes hear is coming from people who don’t actually have contact with these refugees,” she says. “Everyone we talked to said they’ve received nothing but kindness from Kentuckians.”

ON EXHIBIT

Trees of the Season: Celebrate the Spectrum — presented in partnership with the Special Persons Advocacy Network, the exhibit features trees decorated by community groups serving individuals with disabilities.

My New Kentucky Home (Lockhart Gallery – 2ndfloor) – a photography exhibit by Emma Jackson and Hibah Siddiqui that explores the struggles and triumphs of Kentucky’s resettled refugees.

Both exhibits  are up through Dec. 27, suggested donation of $5; open 10 a.m.-6 pm. weekdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays.

COMING UP

Secret Santa Pottery Painting — Dec. 6, $20 per child. Three offerings at 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.; drop your kids off at the Arts Center for one of our hour-long supervised pottery painting sessions. After firing, their finished product will come home already wrapped and ready to go under the tree. Registration required.

Christmas Tree Plate — 2-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, $50 . Come create a festive holiday serving plate. You can choose from three designs and an Arts Center instructor will help you make a piece that is uniquely yours.

Starry Night Studio: Angel of Love — 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13, $25. Go from blank canvas to finished masterpiece in a single class. An instructor will guide you, step-by-step. No experience required!

Winter Wonderland Art Camp — 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 19-23, $50/day or $200/week. Start your child’s winter break off with art while you finish your holiday shopping. Students in grades K-5 will explore a wide variety of frosty art projects in mediums including drawing, painting, and ceramics.

Register online at communityartscenter.net