New Gallery Show, Portraying Humanity, Depicts St. Louis Immigrants

click to enlarge MICA Project client Erika with her daughter, Alison - COURTESY OF HUMANS OF ST. LOUIS
MICA Project client Erika with her daughter, Alison

The conversation surrounding immigration can be a nasty one in 2017, with everyone from the president down to online commenters throwing jabs at those who come to the U.S. from other countries. A new photography exhibit opening at the Dark Room this weekend hopes to change that.

“In a word, it’s basically about reminding everyone about our shared humanity,” says Jennifer Ibañez Whitlock.

Whitlock serves on the board of directors for the St. Louis-based Migration and Immigrant Community Action Project, better known as the MICA Project. The agency's clients — immigrants who seek help navigating the U.S.'s complicated immigration system — are featured in the show, Portraying Humanity.

Lindy Drew, best known for her work on the Humans of St. Louis series, shot the photos. Her portraits highlight the immigrants' "contributions and connections," according to the press release announcing the show.

Drew's sensibility was invaluable in capturing the immigrants' spirit, says Katherine Abalos, the agency's client support and community engagement coordinator.

“She’s super bubbly, super warm and allows our clients to open up to her, which was fun to see,” Abalos says.

click to enlarge MICA Project client Aziza (left) with her family. - COURTESY OF HUMANS OF ST. LOUIS
MICA Project client Aziza (left) with her family.

The gallery opening, Abalos adds, is about bringing the community together.

“They [clients] come with their own skills, come with their own talents and they have so much to offer to our community,” Abalos says. “The overall purpose of this event is to allow those stories to come through.”

In addition to the photography, the organization reached out to schools in the St. Louis region with a contest: Students, kindergarten through eighth grade, would make drawings detailing where they came from and what that means to them. Some come from other countries; some are U.S.-born. Twenty-four of these drawings will be presented at the event.

“What better way than photographs that portray our clients in sort of day-to-day situations to remind everyone that, just because you’re not born in the U.S. or you don’t have a U.S. passport, that doesn’t mean you don’t have shared values and shared hopes and dreams,” Whitlock says.

Portraying Humanity will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 29 at the Dark Room at the Grandel (3610 Grandel Square). The gallery will be one-night only. The event is free and open to the public.