'Portraying Humanity' exhibit shines light on St. Louis' immigrant communities | St. Louis Public Radio

'Portraying Humanity' exhibit shines light on St. Louis' immigrant communities

Apr 28, 2017

Advocates from the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project normally help St. Louis clients navigate the complex U.S. immigration system. But this weekend, their efforts will take on a more artistic bent.

“We’ve always wanted to be able to portray our clients as really full, well-rounded people,” explained Jessica Mayo, attorney and co-director at the MICA project. “As more than just their immigration story.”

Parts of those stories from MICA clients will be paired with portraits this weekend for a one-day photography exhibit at the Dark Room in Grand Center. Like it’s name suggests, the “Portraying Humanity” exhibit aims to challenge negative, political rhetoric and stereotypes of immigrants.

“There are a lot of assumptions we make about immigration status that aren’t necessarily relevant to the way we’re interacting with each other,” Mayo said in an interview. “I think getting to know people’s individual’s stories really helps us counteract stereotypes — even ones that we might not realize we have.”

All the portraits will be showcased next to excerpts from interviews done with local photographer Lindy Drew. She is best known for her ongoing photo project, Humans of St. Louis. She styled her pieces for “Portraying Humanity” in the same way.

Addis Ababa was born in Ethiopia and credits his U.S. citizenship to his work with the MICA project.
Credit Lindy Drew | Humans of St. Louis

“We would get together for maybe an hour, and get to know each other,” explained Drew. “They’d jump right in and tell me about their journeys, how they arrived here, perhaps how they fell in love here, or their reasons for wanting to be here.”  

Rita Kimbrough of Nigeria, and her Missouri-native husband, Daryl, are featured in the exhibit. In an interview with Drew, the couple detailed their relationship’s journey, from online correspondence to a six-month adventure through more than 40 states in 2012, to marriage. Other excerpts include Rita Kimbrough’s thoughts on racial politics and immigration policy in the U.S.

Rita and Daryl Kimbrough photographed at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Credit Lindy Drew | Humans of St. Louis

“Working with Lindy was great, we were quite impressed with her,” said Rita Kimbrough. “Who knows? One or two people might learn from our experience.”

The exhibit has been in the works for about a year, and will also include drawings from kindergarten through eighth grade students answering the question, “Where are you from?”  — and what that means to them. Organizers are feeling both relief and nerves as they prepare to open the exhibit to the public.

“Once it’s out there we have to be completely vulnerable. [It’s] scary to put yourself out there for everyone to comment, to judge,” Drew said. “I think it’s really brave that this particular group of people wanted to participate in this project.”

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn