Face value: Photo exhibit focuses on refugees

Face value: Photo exhibit focuses on refugees
Photo by Louise Wateridge

It gives a world crisis a human face.

Inside a Brooklyn Heights church hangs a series of giant portraits — each an image of a recent refugee to the United States. The “Facing America” exhibit aims to counter scary stories about the asylum-seekers by showing that they are just ordinary people, says the photographer behind the images.

“I want people to understand they are regular people and we have to welcome them, because if you see their smile you see they’re no different from their neighbors,” said Hidemi Takagi, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Takagi will speak at an artist reception at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church on Feb. 27.

The church commissioned the Japan-born photographer to shoot 19 refugees currently staying in Connecticut. Each subject is receiving assistance from Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services — a program run through the church’s Episcopal Migration Ministries to helps them find them housing and jobs.

Takagi’s subjects come from Syria, Sudan, Congo, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Iraq — and none of them are Christian. That detail makes people focus on their duty to take care of each other without relying on common bonds of religion, says the show’s curator.

“We want to break down boundaries between Christians and non-Christians,” said Harry Weil, “It’s not just a Christian responsibility, it’s our responsibility as Americans to take care of people who we don’t know and not just group them as nameless others.”

The portraits, shot against a vivid red backdrop, hang above the pews. Each photo is almost four feet wide, and Weil says the larger-than-life scale of the images forces viewers to confront their own anxieties about refugees.

“Wherever you’re standing you have the eyes of all these people on you,” he said. “It’s easy to look away when you see these images on the internet and can just click onto the next thing. But when you’re in the church, they’re looking at you and you have to face them.”

All of the refugees featured in the show have been invited attend the artist reception on Saturday. Takagi says they are beaming to have the chance to participate.

“I think they’re pretty proud to be a part of this,” she said.

“Facing America: Portraits of Refugees Resettling in the U.S.” at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church [157 Montague St. at Clinton St. in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 875–6960, www.stannholytrinity.org], On display until March 25. Artist reception on Feb. 27 at 4 pm.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Life in technicolor: Hidemi Takagi photographed 19 recent refugees to the United States, including this man currently living in Connecticut. Her oversized photos will hang in St. Ann’s Church until the end of March.
Hidemi Takagi