Local exhibit, activities shine light on refugee experience
An exhibit about refugees has a temporary home. “Sanctuary & Sustenance: The Story of Many Journeys” is on display until June 30 at the American Jewish Museum of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
With reliance upon photographs from Julia Rendleman, a documentary photographer who previously worked for the Post-Gazette, the exhibit details refugee displacement, resettlement and beginning life anew in Pittsburgh.
“There is a lot of rich important information that will give audiences a different kind of perspective about what it means for people to become asylum seekers,” said Melissa Hiller, director of the museum.
“It’s capturing it in an artistic way. You see a little caption that tells you about what’s happened, the beauty of the people, how they care about their families,” said Leslie Aizenman, director of refugee and immigrant services at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh.
With its emphasis on Bhutanese refugees, the exhibit is of local interest. Since 2008, between 5,000 and 7,000 Bhutanese have resettled in Pittsburgh, said Aizenman, who added that the exhibit should also help decrease xenophobia.
“They can see who their new neighbors are and become welcoming,” she said. “It’s nothing to be afraid of. I realize there is a fear factor, but there is nothing to be concerned of. Let’s welcome them and see what their lives have been like.”
“We don’t often get to see the ongoing narrative of the process of leaving what your home has been and journeying halfway around the world and establishing a new life,” said Hiller. “The visual narrative represents people’s personal stories and struggles.”
While the photographs provide perspective, a culturally rich performance granted another peek.
On May 18, approximately 300 people attended a reception and celebration of the exhibit at the JCC’s Levinson Hall. Bolstering the exhibit were live performances from West African drummer Yamoussa Camara, the Balafon West African Dance Ensemble and the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh.
“Literally, people really got that sense of art being a bridge builder,” said Hiller.
By observing both the photographs and performances, attendees saw “the distinct flair” of the cultures and customs being kept alive in Pittsburgh, she said.
Lending an additional lens was an 18-minute multimedia presentation of images and music on the refugee experience, “The Story of Many Journeys.”
“While the performances were electric and celebratory, the multimedia film had gravity and seriousness,” said Hiller.
For those who missed the May 18 gathering, upcoming events will feature other performances, said Aizenman.
World Refugee Day, which is June 20, will be celebrated in Pittsburgh on June 17 with performances scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Market Square downtown. The free event also offers cultural foods, crafts and activities from local refugee communities.
“It is important to educate and share culturally,” said Aizenman, who added that the exhibit, as well as accompanying activities, should ring a bell for local Jews. “It’s happened to the Jewish people time and time again; it’s our turn to be the welcomers, not the welcomed.”
>> “Sanctuary & Sustenance: The Story of Many Journeys” is on display until June 30 at the American Jewish Museum of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, 5738 Darlington Road. For information, call 412-521-8010. Admission is free.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.