An exhibit coming to Kalamazoo features photos of the items refugees brought to the United States. Photographer Jim Lommasson says it’s also a story about what people left behind.
What we Carried: Fragments and Memories from Iraq and Syria will be at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum beginning Sunday through April 15th. Lommasson will speak at the museum Sunday afternoon December 16th at 1:30.
Lommasson says he hopes people see what refugees chose to bring with them and ask what they would take, perhaps if there was a natural disaster. He says that should build some compassion and empathy to the refugees. But Lommasson says the story is also about what people leave behind, such as their job, culture and friends.
The photos include a border of white space around them. Lommasson says that allows the refugees to write about what they brought with them, and why it was important. Lommasson says he decided early on not to make the photographs into art because he thought it might distract the viewer, but he also didn’t want it to look like hard evidence or “matter of fact.” Lommasson says in this case, he’s just “the conduit” for the story telling.
As he does in other cities, Lommasson has spent some time in Kalamazoo with refugees who have come from Syria. He says it’s hard to talk about what they left, but do appreciate being welcomed. Lommasson says when he sees people reaching out to their new neighbors by offering classes in English as a second language, or making donations, he says “this is really the America that we want to be.”