By Ruxandra Looft
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and ISU professor Dennis Chamberlin is showing Voices of Immigration at the Gallery in the Round in Ames, Iowa. The exhibit is small, offering a handful of images coupled with words magnified to the size of the neighboring photographs. Both words and images convey a somber mood, highlighting what one goes into the exhibit already expecting: immigration in Iowa, like in any other place, is fraught with obstacles, sentiments of xenophobia, and a sense of loss and despair.
The Gallery in the Round is a part of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames. The exhibit is housed in the church’s upstairs space, tucked between comfortable seating areas, a children’s nursery, a cozy library, and huge windows overlooking the church garden. The clean and inviting space builds a stark contrast to the writing on the wall: “There are some that really, truthfully tell you they don’t want you here,” and “you don’t belong here.”
I went to the exhibit with a sense of apprehension, as a foreigner and first generation immigrant. I took with me my young daughter with whom I openly and shamelessly speak my native language (only once have I been confronted with an “but how will she learn English?” and that was in Ohio). I admit to viewing the exhibit with subjective eyes yet I also found myself removed from the experiences offered by Chamberlin’s subjects.
I left thinking about the vastly diverse nature of the “immigrant experience.” About how skin color, education, gender, sexuality, and class intersect with the local culture to create unique stories that cannot be lumped under a collective voice of immigration. Fittingly enough, Chamberlin uses the plural “voices” to offer his narrative, yet even his project only touches on the multitude of stories that could be told by immigrants in Iowa.
The photoexhibit does present a good starting point for an important discussion: What are the markers that allow some to pass while others suffer? How, if at all, can the shared attribute of being an immigrant bring people together when the spectrum of experience is so broad and diverse? And what can be done to educate others about the lives behind those voices?
(source: from the artist’s website)
Voices of Immigration is an exhibit of images and words by Dennis Chamberlin, currently open for viewing at the Gallery in the Round, 1015 Hyland Avenue, Ames, Iowa. The artist’s reception will take place on Sunday, Sep. 16, from 2-5pm. For more details, see the artist’s website.
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