Under the sunset making splashes of fiery opalescence across the sky, a bright yellow three-story house strewn with flowers and trees covered in autumn foliage stood on the lakeshore, overlooking a city filled with skyscrapers. The whole scenery with a blend of western and oriental influences that seemed to lend an air of stability as well as reminiscence was captured in oils by a refugee from Thailand.
This is the dream house of Ratima Sa-nguanpana, 26, who arrived in Chicago six months ago with assistance from World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency.
“She was vulnerable to put herself on this wall,” said Hannah Bonifacius, 27, Sa-nguanpana’s ESL teacher at World Relief Chicago. “But that's a sign of her strength because she was willing to let us in to what's happening in her world and her thoughts.”
Sa-nguanpana's painting was among 20 artworks on display during "Home Is," a benefit for World Relief organized by Roughhewn People, the art collective based in Park Ridge. The event was held Friday evening at Missio Dei Chicago, a church located at 1242 W Addison St, Chicago.
Through a variety of artworks, ranging from photographs, to acrylic paintings, to digital paintings, and to hand-sewn rugs, 11 visual artists and two singer-song writers tried to capture the essence of what makes a place a home, what it means to feel at home, and feel safety and stability. All participating artists offered their artwork for sale with prices ranging from $12 to $500.
“It [asylum-seeking migration] is a huge issue in Turkey and Syria, and Europe as a whole,” said Adam Nelson, 28, director of Roughhewn People. “So we are trying to find a way in which artists and people can give back. We’re trying to bring in some money, bring in some support [and] bring in some goods that could support people here and abroad. I think that’s a cool impact people could have.”
Among the crowd was a 28-year-old freelance illustrator, Matthew Sargent, who brought five copies of his comic book ‘The Complete Bag Drop,’ which depicts a college graduate returning home and learning to adjust himself. Sargent was happy to support refugees at World Relief.
“What is cool about tonight is that we use our creativity in a way to lift people up,” Sargent said. “I think it is also a great opportunity to gather funds to help refugees within our community.”
Prior to a music concert, more than 40 attendees were hovering around the foyer, appreciating arts and mingling with artists and organizers as well as adding a piece of fabric to a weaving loom behind the entrance door.
The sound of Tiffany Wong, 26, Chicago-based singer-song writer and painter, singing along with her acoustic guitar soon echoed throughout the church hall. Jacob Mau, 30, donations coordinator at World Relief Chicago also shared his songs and read short stories and poetry about his experiences with refugees over the course of nine years.
“[Most] arrive jetlagged, wonderstruck, relieved to be done traveling and anxious about this strange new place,” Mau said. “But they soon established a life here, and I am glad to be a part of that.”
Mau’s goal for the event was to raise awareness for refugees in Chicago and inspire people without a refugee background through his artworks.
“So many people in Chicago are not aware that the refugees are living among them, serving them in the airport or at Chipotle,” Mau said. “So this is all about, ‘Hey, they're out there.’”
Many participants said they enjoyed seeing various expressions of art that discuss common values and at the same time afford a glimpse into the realities of refugees.
“I had no idea what I was walking into,” said Paige Schlosser, 19, student at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “But I really liked the mix of stories and songs. It was effective in understanding what World Relief is about and what it does.”
However, there were a handful people who expressed disappointment at the lack of involvement of refugees.
“There's some distance to the work that they normally do at World Relief,” said Marium Miller,19, student at DePaul University, who once volunteered for an Iraqi family on behalf of the organization. “I think this event was more aimed toward American audience. I don’t think it directly caters to the refugee families other than the fundraising efforts tonight.”
Regardless of what others thought, Sa-nguanpana could not conceal her joy of seeing her paintings among the works of other artists and was proud of herself for speaking to people in a new language she just learned a few months ago.
“This is the first of my picture show so I am OK [even if] I can’t sell [my paintings],” Sa-nguanpana said in English. “It is a beautiful night and I’m happy [to be] here at this moment.”