From June 30th-July 22nd, I had several photographs displayed at the UB Anderson Gallery (located in Buffalo, NY) for the Vive Inc. Art Exhibition “Journey to Freedom” along with artists: William Bergmann, Ben Ami Shemer, Catherine Shuman Miller, and Bruce Philip Bitmead. Some photographs were published in The Buffalo News, Art Voice, as well as The UB Reporter.
Here is an article written by Sandra Firmin about the art exhibition: http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/2012_06_21/vive_exhibit
On June 30th, we had over 100 guests attend for the opening night at the gallery. I felt incredibly blessed being able to witness all the love and support from my friends and family. I never would have thought that I would have an opportunity like this, and I’m extremely grateful for everyone that took part in helping to organize this art show together.
This entire project started back in November 2011 when my friend William Bergmann invited me to come along with him to photograph portraits of refugees at Vive La Casa (a refugee shelter located in Buffalo, NY)
With a ton of encouragement from Sister Beth Niederpruem (from Vive La Casa) and our photo professor Bradley Phillips (who highly encouraged Will and I to continue photographing), the photo project at VIVE ended up lasting for a 7 month period (from Nov 2011- May 2012). During this time, we documented hundreds of images of the life of a refugee during their stay at this shelter. My first few months photographing at Vive were quite difficult. I found that communicating with the refugees was an issue. Since many of the refugees did not speak the English language, it was often very difficult to explain to them what I was doing at Vive and why I was photographing portraits there. For many refugees, cameras and photographs are often used by their country to spy on citizens who do things that are against the religion, law, and/or government. Refugees are often punished as a consequence of their actions. Most refugees that I met at Vive escaped their countries because of those very reasons. Many were persecuted because of their religious beliefs and decided to escape their country in order to have freedom and justice in America.
There was one incredible story from a teenager that inspired me during my last few months at Vive. He was a 17 year old high school student from Afghanistan that wanted to pursue a career as an artist. He loved painting and decided to enter two of his paintings into an art and poetry contest in the United States. From the contest, he had won an award for his paintings, however the Afghan government were not pleased when they discovered that his artwork “won awards” and that the artwork was discretely criticizing the Afghan government. The teen had described that he was persecuted in Afghanistan for voicing his opinions through his artwork and that him and his family suffered severe consequences for it. On April 2012, he fled from Afghanistan and came to the United States with his mother to pursue his dreams. When talking to him, the teenage artist sounded very passionate about his artwork and it was incredible to witness how much he was willing to give up in order to start a new life with his mother in the United States. The last time I had spoken to him, he said that he was still waiting to hear for responses to see if they would be allowed to gain citizenship in the United States. I do not know the outcome of what happened to this teenager and his mother, but I hope that his story will inspire all of us, as well as other artists not just in Afghanistan but here in the United States as well. It is a reminder that we shouldn’t take our freedom for granted, especially when there are artists out in other countries who are being persecuted for voicing their opinions through their work.
Lastly, I’d like to say that the Journey to Freedom project was an unbelievably shaping experience for me. It has challenged me in ways that I never thought possible and I’m grateful for all the stories and for all the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet during my time in Vive. I have come to learn that documenting people’s lives involves an intimate exchange of trust, patience, and humility. It is incredible how much one can learn from these individuals if only we just stopped ourselves for a second to just listen and see.
If you missed the art show, here are the 16 photographs that I had exhibited at the UB Anderson Gallery in Buffalo, NY.
All Photographs can be purchased at http://www.viveinc.org/art-exhibition/
My photographs are a photo-documentation of the refugees journey as they step into the light of freedom from the darkness of their past.
All Photographs can be purchased at http://www.viveinc.org/art-exhibition/
Below are some images from the UB Anderson Gallery exhibition
A big thanks to my friend Benny Higo for taking these photos for me at the Journey to Freedom Art Exhibition Opening Night on June 30th 2012
If you are interested in helping the refugees at Vive Inc, there are several ways you can do so-
1.) Purchasing a photograph (the money will be used to help provide food, better facilities, as well a better living environment for the refugees stay at Vive)
2.) A monetary donation (One day’s expense for one refugee is $25.00 for food and shelter. Vive has room for approximately 115 refugees.)
3.) Donate Items (Personal hygiene items-toothpaste, toothbrush, lotion, soap, shampoo, tissues, mouthwash, new linens, flip flops, pillows, baby diapers, socks/shoes for refugees who need it for work)
4.) Consider donating your time by Volunteering- (Donating your time or talent is always a need at Vive- here are some services listed that Vive is looking for: carpenters, drivers, plumbers, painters, general maintenance workers, child care aides, as wells as teachers (especially for ESL)
For monetary donations, please visit http://www.viveinc.org/donate/
If you are interested in purchasing a photograph, please visit: http://www.viveinc.org/art-exhibition/
Your tax deductible donations can help make a difference in someone’s life.
For more information, please visit http://www.viveinc.org
I’d like to thank the following people for all their help and support with the Journey to Freedom Art Show:
To the staff at The UB Anderson Gallery-
Sandra Firmin, Tom Holt, Bob Scalise, and the Anderson Gallery Interns
Thank you all for organizing and getting the press release out for this exhibition as well as helping to provide us with a space to hang up our artwork. This opportunity was a dream come true, I never EVER thought for a moment that I would be able to have photos exhibited.
Tom Holt+ Anderson Gallery Interns, thanks for helping to install all the artwork. You guys were extremely patient with all of us during this entire process and were very helpful!
To all the staff at Vive Inc.- Thank you all for your time and energy spent on making this event happen. There are often little things/details that people do that tend to get overlooked. So i’d like to thank you all for these “little things” and for always making sure that everything works out in the end.
Sister Beth Niederpruem (From Vive Inc.)- Thank you for allowing William and I to have this opportunity to photograph at Vive. Also, thanks for your hard work and dedication in emailing, making phone calls, and coordinating EVERYTHING. Without your help, I don’t think that this show would’ve been possible.
Michael Marszalkowski (President of Vive Inc.)- Thank you for encouraging both Will and I to find a “story” behind each portrait as well as giving us input to help us both see things differently in the way we photograph. Your advice helped me throughout my time photographing at Vive Inc.
Lynne Parker (Graphic Designer at Vive Inc.)- The booklet turned out amazing! Thanks for all your time and energy that went into making it as well as getting the photos up on the Vive website.
Daniel Calleri (Photo Professor at UB)- Thank you so much for letting me use the photo lab, this art show would have been IMPOSSIBLE without your help in letting me work/edit/prepare the images for this exhibition at the lab. Thanks for recommending us to that frame shop as well as giving us great suggestions for framing, matting, and sizing. I know that I may have caused you stress and/or high blood pressure during this entire process but thanks for being patient with me. I am also really glad that I managed to get a photo of you sort of doing the asian peace sign, we all know it was you. Most importantly, thanks for believing in me as a photographer. I will never forget that.
William Bergmann- Where should I begin? This has been one HECK of an experience. This whole thing wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for you. Thank you for inviting me to photograph with you back in November. I know there were times when we often doubted whether this exhibition would work out or not, and in the end we made it happen. Thanks for all your helpful advice and helping me loosen up during stressful moments. It has been awesome watching you grow as a photographer.
To my friends+family- I felt incredibly blessed to see so many familiar faces at the show. I was especially surprised to see some friends from NYC :) Thank you all for your support in helping me grow as an artist. Love you all!
To all the artists who contributed to the show: William Bergmann, Ben Ami Shemer, Catherine Shuman Miller, and Bruce Philip Bitmead-I hope we all cross paths again someday, I loved all of your artwork!
To all those who donated and/or Purchased photographs - Thank you for your generosity whether it was through a monetary donation, or item, or just even your time and service. Every little bit counts and I’d like to thank you for supporting this show as well as the refugees at Vive. Your contribution will make a difference in someone’s life and future.