From the Front Lines
Cal State East Bay lecturer's portraits of refugees on display in University Art Gallery
The faces of more than 20 refugee children, alongside their own original artwork expressing their experiences, will hang in the Cal State East Bay gallery this quarter as part of an exhibit from lecturer David Gross.
Called the Inside-Out Project, the images were taken along the Balkan Route in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany.
Gross first traveled to Turkey to work with refugees in 2013, and then again to Beirut in 2015. At the time, he focused his attention on children who had made their way to a safe destination. But this year, his project focused on telling the stories of children still on their journeys.
The Inside-Outside Project has two key elements: art classes followed by a portrait session with students, and teacher training to ensure continuation of the lessons. Gross said in Serbia he hired and worked with teachers — some refugees themselves — to lead the art-therapy inspired classroom exercises, which start with deep meditative breathing followed by a guided painting lesson.
“Many of them [in Serbia] said it was the first hour of peace and relaxation they’d had in over a year,” Gross said. “It was really rewarding to see that sometimes the smallest things are also the most powerful.”
In the next year, Gross is hoping to produce a book of the images and is researching other galleries to display his work. He said that while challenging, his four months abroad were also some of the most rewarding of his career.
“You go from [wanting to create change] by being a journalist, where you hope millions of people see your photographs, to realizing that by impacting the lives of individual kids, there’s power and value in that,” Gross said.
An opening reception for the exhibit will be held Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 5:30 p.m. at the University Art Gallery. The exhibit will be on display Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Sept. 26 to Oct. 26.