Immigrant portraits in New York artwork present face down Trump


NEW YORK (Reuters) – Immigrant faces captured in life-sized portraits by artist Betsy Ashton look the viewer straight within the eye, as if keen to inform their tales of leaving dwelling to courageous new struggles in an odd land.

Guests study Artist Betsy Ashton’s exhibition, “Portraits of Immigrants: Unknown Faces, Untold Tales” at Riverside Church in New York, U.S., March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Demetrius Freeman

Ashton mentioned she created the oil work to counter what she calls a false political narrative spun by the Trump administration.

“I merely determined it was time to steadiness the story, time to attempt to counter this inflammatory rage that’s being whipped up towards a bunch of those who don’t deserve it,” Ashton mentioned.

Her “Portraits of Immigrants” are on show by Easter at Manhattan’s Riverside Church, about 10 miles up the Hudson River from Ellis Island, the place 12 million newcomers landed from 1892 to 1954. The Statue of Liberty towers over the island, asking the world in a plaque to “Give me your drained, your poor, your huddled lots craving to breathe free.”

The portraits embrace academics, entrepreneurs, a nurse, housekeeper, actor, politician and barista from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. They’re newcomers and long-timers. Some are U.S. residents, others have correct paperwork, one doesn’t.


Their tales, which Ashton, a former CBS Information correspondent, wrote and posted subsequent to every portrait, inform of struggling to slot in to a brand new tradition and studying a brand new language for the promise of a greater life.

“The collective portrayal of the immigrant expertise is what’s compelling, not only one particular person story,” mentioned Ron Kim, who got here to New York from South Korea when he was 6. He’s pictured in his New York State Meeting workplace, the place he represents a part of Queens, one of many metropolis’s 5 boroughs.

One other immigrant immortalized in oil paint is Abdul Saboor, who taught U.S. troops the tradition of his native Afghanistan earlier than coming to america almost 5 years in the past.

For Saboor, now a U.S. citizen working for the upstate New York nonprofit that helped resettle him, Ashton’s exhibit is a chance for Individuals “to think about themselves in my pores and skin.”

Each Kim and Saboor mentioned they’re keenly conscious of – and disturbed by – the political scorching potato that immigration has turn out to be since Donald Trump grew to become president.

As a candidate in 2016, Trump stirred anti-immigrant fervor by accusing Mexico of sending drug sellers, gangs and rapists into the nation, as his supporters loudly urged him to “construct that wall” alongside the southern U.S. border.

As president, Trump has not solely maintained a rhetorical drum beat towards unlawful immigrants, but additionally sought to slim the pathways for authorized immigration and journey. The White Home didn’t reply to a request for touch upon this story.


Ashton says listening to Trump throughout the marketing campaign shortly after a Sunday sermon in regards to the Good Samaritan impressed her to place brush to canvas to point out the true tales of American newcomers.

In her neighborhood in Queens, the place almost half the inhabitants is overseas born, the English-Scottish-Welsh-German artist whose ancestors on her father’s aspect arrived within the nation about 300 years in the past, had no hassle discovering immigrants.

She began with “Eddie” Rigo, who runs the espresso bar she visits every morning. He fled crime-ridden Sao Paulo the place his Italian household had been within the pizza enterprise.

Then got here Beata Szakowicz Kombel, a nurse Ashton is aware of from physician visits. She left Poland’s sagging financial system within the early 1990s.

The gathering grew to 16, and Ashton is searching for two extra immigrants from troubled nations, ideally Venezuela and Syria, to finish the set.

Successful over her topics usually took salesmanship.

“I didn’t wish to be within the highlight,” mentioned Porez Luxama, who left Haiti within the 1990s and teaches math in a New York Metropolis center faculty. “However she was very convincing.”

Ashton, whose works embrace a portrait on show within the U.S. embassy in London, has spent two years on the challenge, which value her greater than $200,000 in misplaced earnings. She is searching for different venues for her exhibit after it leaves Riverside Church.

The topics embrace “Angel” (not her actual identify), who came visiting on a vacationer visa 20 years in the past; Maria Solome, a Guatemalan housekeeper who sneaked throughout the Rio Grande however lately secured a inexperienced card; and John Lam who got here from Hong Kong poor and now heads the Lam Group actual property funding conglomerate.

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Regardless of their assorted origins, races and religions, Ashton mentioned immigrants share a dedication to beat the issues that drove them from their houses.

“It’s the grit, the heart and the resilience that comes with survival, sacrifice and risk-taking,” she mentioned. “These are the identical qualities that we have fun in immigrants from generations previous.”

(This story refiles to repair quantity in paragraph 22 to $200,000)

Reporting by Peter Szekely; Modifying by Richard Chang