Portrait Project Illustrates Immigrants’ Stories

by | Mar 28, 2024 | Around the ‘Bein.

Mary B. Thomas Award Honorees 2022

Westerville Central High School students with Otterbein student portrait artists at reception held at Otterbein on Jan. 16, 2024.

Otterbein students mingled with immigrant high school students and their families, talking, laughing, and admiring paintings at a reception at the Taylor Lounge in the Campus Center. One high school student introduced her entourage to her teacher, stating, “This is my father, my mother, and my artist,” with a huge smile on her face.

Pablo Chignolli (left) with Louise Captein (right)

When Pablo Chignolli, a Spanish teacher at Westerville Central High School, approached the Otterbein Department of Art and Art History with an idea to recognize cultural diversity at his school, Associate Professor Louise Captein answered the call. Chignolli, a native of Peru, wanted to create a way for WCHS students from across the world to tell their stories in a creative and supportive way.

Captein, a native of the Netherlands, organized a group of 10 Otterbein students who volunteered to paint portraits of these “New American” high school students during their free time. Each Otterbein student was paired with a high schooler to work through a weeks-long process that included multiple sketches, photos, and finally, paintings. While the Otterbein students were painting, the WCHS students were writing their memoirs.

On Jan. 16, the portraits debuted with a month-long interactive exhibition that included QR codes linked to the memoirs and a video about the project. Chignolli compiled the memoirs and art into a book available online, THE ONES AMONG US: Memoirs of Culturally Diverse High School Students in America.

Reflecting on the project, the Otterbein students said they gained more than new art skills from the experience, they gained new insights and perspectives.

“It just reminds you how everyone has a story. Everyone is unique and has their own experiences and they may be completely different from your own. But at heart, we are all still alike — we are all still human and want our voices to be heard.”

— Alina Baer ’25, Art and Journalism and Media Communication double major

“There is not a lot of representation in the media of immigrant people. Being able to see yourself in art is a way to boost self-esteem and confidence. When you see beautiful photographs or paintings of people you want to look for yourself in them.”

— Sarah Farmer ’24, BFA major with a Painting concentration and Art History minor

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