Shadows and Light: Immigrant children find hope through art

Just steps away from Nevelson Chapel, something happened that would have brought a smile to Louise Nevelson’s unmistakable countenance. Migrant minors — who, like Nevelson herself were forced to flee communities where violence threatens their very lives — were invited to make, in the spirit of Nevelson, assemblage pieces of art within and around boxes. They were asked to consider the question “who are you?"

The migrant minors heard firsthand the story that ties them inextricably together, a story of a young girl who had to flee Kiev, lived for a time in the countryside as her father explored possibilities in the United States and then took the long journey with her mother and siblings to resettle in Rockland, Maine. They heard how art became her way to self-expression, integrating shadow and light.

Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in New York's Sanctuary/AMMPARAO Ministry provided the materials and brought the children to Saint Peter’s Church, where they were given the opportunity to express their story through art. Many conveyed their wounds inflicted by chronic violence, poverty, and displacement from their homes in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Amparo is the Spanish word for “protection of a living creature from suffering or damage.” Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) was created by the ELCA to deliver this compassionate protection to these most vulnerable survivors of circumstances beyond their control.

How fitting that this respite was provided so close to Nevelson Chapel, a place that was intended as a refuge. And that the beneficiaries, whose lives, like Nevelson’s, had fallen under the shadow of forced migration were also able to find the lightness of solace and even glimpses of hope as art accompanied them this day.

Though the Chapel remains closed for renovations, the heart of its spirit surely beats strongly, in sync with these children, as art gave voice to their sense of self.

June 20 was World Refugee Day. To learn more or get involved in refugee response, visit www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday

 
An art teacher used to visit Nevelson’s elementary school in Rockland, Maine. The first lesson was to draw a sunflower. Having drawn a large brown circle taking up much of the paper, Louise had room to draw only small yellow petals. As the lesson came to a close, the teacher held up her drawing saying to the class, “Louise’s sunflower is the most creative.”  Having learned about this early experience, a number of children incorporated sunflowers into their own works.

An art teacher used to visit Nevelson’s elementary school in Rockland, Maine. The first lesson was to draw a sunflower. Having drawn a large brown circle taking up much of the paper, Louise had room to draw only small yellow petals. As the lesson came to a close, the teacher held up her drawing saying to the class, “Louise’s sunflower is the most creative.”

Having learned about this early experience, a number of children incorporated sunflowers into their own works.

This child cut out mountains from green construction paper, drew a home on orange construction paper, and planted a colorful garden in the center of her box. “I miss seeing the mountains of my home country. And I really miss my family’s garden in front of our house."

This child cut out mountains from green construction paper, drew a home on orange construction paper, and planted a colorful garden in the center of her box. “I miss seeing the mountains of my home country. And I really miss my family’s garden in front of our house."

 
Saint Peter's Church