They are our neighbors. Our friends.
It is the woman with her children checking out next to us at the grocery store. They are sitting in Austin traffic with us. “Refugee” is not their name, nor is it their identity. Each is unique and brings a story, religion, language and culture with them. According to the Pew Research Center, Texas is second to California in the number of refugees resettling in the United States. “Refugee is Not My Name” is a traveling art exhibition featuring portrait photographs, written vignettes, and a short film and is a window into the lives of some the refugee neighbors who comprise the fabric of our community. This show focuses on the humanity behind the headlines; it is a story for all people.
Instead of pictures on the wall, this exhibition is an experience that brings viewers face-to-face with the work, encouraging connection, movement, and interaction with other viewers. The layout is an invitation to journey through the stories, and it is centered around freestanding panels with oversized portraits hanging beside written word. A film documenting the interviews plays on a loop on the middle wall, and guests may hear the voices of the refugees through the headphones that hang nearby.
So, back story:
Our art director at STAV Creative, Ashley St. Clair, and her friends Jess Archer and Aaron Weiss created this project with the help from individuals from all over the wold who they met in the refugee community after volunteering in ESL courses for refugees run by Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT), a local nonprofit providing refugee care. When Ashley joined STAV, we added our branding and exhibition design services to the mix to bring the project to life. We designed the logo, marketing materials, crafted and built the exhibition’s layout, and led the PR for each opening event. After making its first debut at the Lewis Carnegie Gallery in March, “Refugee is Not My Name” reopened in Austin’s Central Library in June as a part of the 2018 Mayor’s Book Club.
Last week STAV Creative had the pleasure of co-hosting a private reception with the Library Foundation to celebrate the reopening of the exhibit in the Central Library Gallery. The reception brought together friends and family, the artists, press and refugee members featured in the exhibit. The event allowed attendees to not only view the photographs, stories and film, but to meet some of the refugees and their families.
The exhibition includes an interactive portion where attendees can share their thoughts and what they’ve learned.
“I expected to be moved by”Refugee is Not My Name,” to leave the exhibition feeling sobered and saddened by what so many people in terrifying transitions currently face. What I didn’t expect was all the flooding warmth and recognition and flashes of humor. Walking among the exquisite portraits and intimate, deftly written profiles, I felt something steal over me that I’ve only experienced a handful of times. Those times have often been late at night, around a friend’s dinner table, talking and laughing over candlelight, sharing stories that don’t come out by day. Archer Weiss and St. Clair are the hosts of this gathering, introducing you with sensitivity, integrity, and profound respect to these recently resettled Austin residents. Staring into their eyes, reading their words, you see yourself, you learn from their journey, and you leave buoyed and humbled by their fierce hope.”
– Brittani Sonnenberg, author
The reception was the perfect way to pause and celebrate the importance of people in our community and to share our collaboration in the creation of the exhibition. As a creative agency in Austin with a passion for advocacy work, we are thankful for the opportunity to play a part in this work; it’s projects like these that make us love this city.
“Refugee is Not My Name” continues to transcend the polarized discussions surrounding refugee migration. We invite you to step away from the current news stories and experience the exhibition for yourself. Get to know some of these individuals – their personalities, reflections on making a new life in Austin, and hopes for their futures. Perhaps you will find a commonality where you might not have expected one to exist. Let us introduce you to some of your newest neighbors.
If you’re in Austin and have a chance to visit the gallery show, we’d love to know how it impacted you. The installation is on view at the Austin Central Library until August. More details are found here. You can also help support efforts to bring this show to other Austin locations (with the addition of some new portraits and stories at each location!) at the project website.
Are you making an impact on the world and need help with designing a storytelling experience? Advocacy marketing? Event design or branding? Reach out and let’s do it together!