faces of new americans

About Face of New America

Throughout history, one function of portraiture has been to affirm or immortalize the authority and social status of its subjects. The portrait, representing the human face, can also mirror how we relate to others through our “cultural ideals.” From this perspective, portraiture could be regarded as a complex site for exploring the relationship between identity and power.

Possessing the freedom to create ones identity is one of the fundamental characteristics of the American dream. Most of these youth could not exercise this right in their countries of origin because of the weight of tradition. Paradoxically, the same constraints are evident in their schools, due to peer pressure ­— to “fit in” and be accepted is the one of the most important concerns for adolescents. This “battle for survival” of the young immigrant manifests itself in these portraits in unexpected ways, expressing the youth’s imagination and desire to create their own world. It is this imaginative space that fascinates me and was the impetus in making visible their hidden self, creating a meta-story of migration, global citizenship, and inter-connectedness.

Every one of my subjects was presented with the question: Imagine your portrait is seen by a large number of people; how do you wish to present your identity? Weeks later, after they had been given time to consider these questions, they were photographed. Their response to my simple question was revealed in their portrait, through their gaze, expression and choice of clothes, expressing the desire to be accepted in their own terms.

Visit www.jilanikpay.com to learn about my films and photography or contact me about scheduling a residency and/or Faces of New America exhibition.