2017 - Ongoing
Stronger Shines the Light Inside is an initiative created by Angie Smith that combines photographs and interviews to illuminate the stories of refugees who have resettled in America. Each portrait shares with the viewer a different aspect of the refugee experience, revealing what it means to seek peace and find freedom in the most unexpected regions in America.
The project began two years ago when I took a portrait of Rita Thara, a 28 year-old refugee from the DRC. She stood next to her four door Saturn, wearing an outfit that she sewed herself. She held her head high and gazed into the distance. Twelve years ago, Rita and her mother fled their village at dusk while the family members that stayed behind were later found and shot by militia. They lived as refugees for a decade in the Central African Republic, and after many attempts, she and her mother were granted refugee status and sent to America.
As the twin engine plane descended over Boise, Idaho, Rita realized that her new home would be nothing like the images of skyscrapers, bustling streets and mansions that inhabited her dreams. Four years later, Rita speaks English, owns her own car and opened her own boutique where she sells her own clothing designs. Rita is happy but acknowledges that life in America does not come without struggle.
“I will never be able to change what is behind, the only thing to do is follow the better things I have in front of me. I have faith and believe that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.”
Over the course of the two years that followed, I photographed and interviewed more than 100 refugees from all over the world living in Boise, Idaho and Salt Lake City, Utah. With a grant from the City of Boise Arts and History Department, I installed a large scale, public, outdoor exhibition that was displayed on the streets of Boise for two months. The project was recognized by the White House during the Obama Administration as being one of the most impactful initiatives in America to welcome and integrate immigrants.