Refugee Photo Exhibit ‘Designed to Engage You Empathetically’


To create his travelling exhibit, “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Stories of Refugees in America,” James Bowey visited all his subjects to photograph them and listen to their stories. 

But after spending time with Zaina from Baghdad (Bowey uses only first names in the exhibit), he felt frustrated because she’d barely said a word. 

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“I failed,” he remembers thinking when he returned to his car. 

But when he listened to the recording, he realized that what she had said in just a few words communicated volumes. 

“I was 12 years old. All I remember is the shouting, and I see my uncle killed — that’s all.

“And my mother screaming.”

Zaina Zaina

Bowey hopes that the spare photo of Zaina in her home, accompanied by those few words, are enough to create the empathy he believes is too often missing in our discussions of refugees.

“I wanted to create something that can break through the division in our country today,” he says. “And we are neurologically wired for empathy.” 

The exhibit, which runs through February at Unity Chicago in Rogers Park, features refugees from around the world.

On Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m., Bowey and one of his refugee subjects, Kenny Kenese, will be present for a “Community Conversation” at Unity Chicago. 

Below, some additional portratis from Bowey's exhibit.

Kenny Kenny

Eh Eh

Yudahtoo Yudahtoo

Samsam Samsam

Bway Bway


Related stories:

Photographer Dawoud Bey Reimagines Journey on Underground Railroad

‘The Fox Hunt’ a Story of 4 Strangers, 3 Faiths and 1 Remarkable Escape

Report: Immigrant Deportation, Separation Can Have ‘Lifelong Impacts’

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