The William and Ida Friday Center puts a face on the refugee crisis

Photos taken by Lynsey Addario in Sittwe, Myanmar are on display in the refugee art exhibit at the Friday Center.

In an effort to humanize a politically divisive issue, The William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education is hosting a photography exhibit, “REFUGEE,” which sheds light on the lives of refugees all over the globe.

“REFUGEE” is a collection of 125 portrait photographs that show the stories of refugees from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Myanmar, Serbia, Slovenia and the United States. 

Accompanying the powerful photographs is a documentary of the same name that runs on loop in the midst of the exhibit and a series of informative lectures centered around the refugee crisis.  

The documentary is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett, who is also a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill ambassador.

The exhibit premiered Sept. 25 and will continue until Nov. 3 on the first floor of the center, open to the public Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  

Assistant director of marketing for the center, Jack Rodenfels, said the refugee crisis is an important issue to be brought up in Chapel Hill.

“This is a humanitarian effort that goes beyond politics,” he said. 

Rodenfels said he hopes the exhibit starts conversations long after people go home. Between the extremely powerful photos, documentary and series, the exhibit gives audiences a lot to digest.  

This exhibit encompasses all aspects of refugee life — from children laughing and playing to much more graphic images of death and disaster. Beside each photo is a short description telling the backstories behind the people in the pictures.

The center warns that some of the pictures contain very graphic images that may not be appropriate for all individuals. 

Niklaus Steiner, the director of the Center for Global Initiatives at UNC, kicked off the lecture series Thursday night with a talk about what modern protection for refugees over the globe looks like and how we should view refugees from a global perspective.

For Steiner, this exhibit is trying to put a face with a word that is very far removed from most American lives. He urged people to “remain committed to this moral obligation to protect persecuted people.”

He said he believes that one of the first steps that must happen to provide proper protection is for us to change how we define a refugee, to become more generous with our conception. 

The photographs in this exhibit were taken by five international photographers: Lynsey Addario, Omar Victor Diop, Graciela Iturbide, Martin Schoeller and Tom Stoddart. Each one is stationed in a different region of the globe, which allows the exhibit to touch on many of the crises all over the globe. 

Philip Beal, the curator of the center, was responsible for hanging each photograph. Beal said he believes that the shock value of the more gruesome images compared to those of children learning and playing games is very important. He wants this to start the conversation between people.   

He believes his exhibit gives people a moment to reflect and then motivation to act.  

Rodenfels described the word refugee as a political buzzword. “REFUGEE” provides audiences with powerful images and stories that, in the hopes of The Friday Center, will change this word from a buzzword with heavy political connotation to a human descriptor that incites important conversation. 

“We don’t realize how lucky we are,” Beal said.


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