Judith

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12,246 kmfrom home
#iamamigrant
"Migrants make the world go around, and I’m lucky to be able to go around it too."
Judith
Current Country: 
Rwanda
Country of Origin: 
United States

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"I grew up in Florida. I worked for about four years with refugees in the United States, teaching art to kids and teenagers that were permanently resettled to the US.

After finalizing my undergraduate education, I moved to northern Uganda and managed to go from working for an organization, to developing my own independent projects. I moved between New York for graduate school, South Sudan and then to the Dominican Republic and Haiti for field research projects. All this time I was working on topics that related to migration, a subject I am very interested in, and the way art can be used to share human stories and connect individuals.

When I finished my studies, I found a job that brought me to West Africa; I lived and worked in Sierra Leone for a few years, before coming to Rwanda in 2013. In Kigali I immediately found it difficult to hear people’s true opinions and learn their stories, which was very different than my experiences in other parts of the continent. It seemed like all Rwandans were very private. After some time in Kigali, I was fortunate to meet some artists whose work focused on personal expression, but I realized that none of the work I was seeing in galleries was really being accessed by the people living in their city. Through conversations and sharing personal interests, we began to see an opportunity to use art as a tool for community engagement and expression around critical social issues.

I started working with Rwandan artists, and partnering with a range of government and private stakeholders to create new projects that took art out of the gallery and into the streets, to address social topics. Creating public artwork that focuses on social issues was conceptually new in Kigali, and being a foreigner trying to introduce a new idea can have both its advantages and challenges. The skills I had developed though my varied global experiences were a value-add, but there is always the risk of something appearing as overly foreign, brought in by outsiders, and thus not being accepted or appreciated.

We prioritize working with community members to identify subject matter and the physical location for our art works, and by doing so, we create art with and for the people who will have daily access and engagement with the resulting pieces of art. It is so important to identify issues of importance to the communities where the work will live, so we try to work hand in hand with community collaborators and a range of other influential Rwandans, to help ensure the work is well received and not viewed as a threat to local culture or values. I believe, as someone once said, culture is not only about the past but also about the present and the future. So I’m trying to bring something new while recognizing and celebrating what already exists and has value.

For now, I’ve made Rwanda my home, but I think home is a transitory thing, and homes change; different elements make a place become a home, and as these elements change, the way you feel in that place changes as well. My personal experience working, living, and being friends with people who have come from one place or have moved to another place, has been very rich and rewarding; these people have a the widest perspective about the world.

People's experiences make them dynamic, and the more experiences you can accumulate in your life the better, so for me, connecting with people coming from other places is an opportunity to learn and grow. I believe that at the end of the day, migrants make the world go around, and I’m lucky to be able to go around it too."

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s):

 

https://together.un.org            http://usaim.org/            https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org