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CEPA and Journey's End present photographs by members of the city's growing refugee population

Hanar, Om Noth Adhikari, Rand, Ahmed Ali, Dhan, Edwin Jones.

Buffalo Through Their Eyes

Most native Buffalonians see the Queen City through rust-tinted lenses. Whether it’s hackneyed pictures of grain elevators or the eerie Richardson towers, the camera doesn’t go far beyond our fading history. How often do we see the quotidian yet lively ethnic markets on the West Side? Or look at the most captured wonders of Western New York with a fresh eye?

The Buffalo Through Their Eyes exhibit, opening October 4 at the CEPA Gallery, offers a chance to see their city from a new point of view. The gallery will show photographs by 15 refugee artists from the Journey’s End Refugee Services who have participated in free photography classes at the Tri-Main Center. This is third time Journey’s End has partnered with CEPA to do the refugee exhibit, with all proceeds going towards the organization.

“I wanted to do a fundraiser that allowed our clients to tell our story and their story at the same time,” said Brian Brown-Cashdollar, development coordinator at Journey’s End. “It’s not something they’ve been able to explore when they come from the circumstances they’re coming from. They get to share their experience of settling in a new home.”

The refugees have been yanked from their homes across the globe and thrust into Buffalo, where their lives are in a constant state of flux. Even mundane tasks, such as taking the bus, represent the conquering of another adjustment, and are prominent subjects in the show. At first glance, a photo of Niagara Falls appears generic. But behind that camera is Ali Ahmed, a refugee from Darfur whose grandfather, Sultan Ali Dinar, was killed by the British in 1916.

“This was my first time at Niagara Falls,” he said. “I asked the bus driver how to get there. If you ask, you can know. If you stay without asking, you will lose.”

Ali has adjusted easily to Buffalo’s affable community. Like any native, he regularly frequents Elmwood Avenue.

“Like five in the evening, this is a very good time,” Ali said. “Sometimes people are singing, painting, it’s a very fun street.”

Om Noth Adhikari, from Nepal, also took pictures of Niagara Falls, but his most luminous photos are portraits of his family. Though an amateur, Om plays with light in his photos. His wife’s raspberry-colored dress is juxtaposed next to a verdant garden in the afternoon sun. His two sons, ages two and six, stand in front of his house in Buffalo wearing traditional Nepali tunics, kurta paijamas. Om was shocked at first by American apparel.

“Most women wear pants here,” he said. He looked over at Andy Cammarata, development associate at Journey’s End, who happened to be wearing khakis and a buttondown nearly identical top those of her male co-worker. Ali grabbed a cloth from the end of the classroom and, with the speed of Clark Kent changing in a phone booth, he draped it around his body.

“Women must be covered,” he said, his own torso is exposed.

A woman in the room, a refugee from Iraq, was almost completely covered. While she normally exposes her hair, she arrived that day in a black hijab with a white scarf underneath for Ramadan. Lately, she said, strangers had mistaken her for a nun. Arriving to class a bit flustered, she mimed the sign of the cross.

“People see me and they say, ‘Oh my god,’” she said. “I say, ‘No, no.’”

In Iraq, her husband abused her daughter and her own family attacked her for leaving him. She lifted up her black dress and pants to reveal diagonal scars on her stomach from when her own family had stabbed her.

“My husband was very Muslim. I don’t trust anyone too religious,” she said. “He drank, he was with women, but everyone thought he was good because he wore a scarf.”

Photos, such as one of her three daughters praying, show the birth of new life here in Buffalo.

“My life is new now here, I want my children to go to school,” she said.

Some refugees have long set up roots in Buffalo. Edwin Jones, 24, came from Liberia 13 years ago. Eager to escape the tumult of his home country, he arrived to his new home on the East Side during a picturesque Buffalo snowfall. The following morning he woke to the news that a kid down the street had been shot.

“That was the worst, it was like, ‘Oh my god, I ain’t come to America for that,’” Jones said. After what felt like a long year, Jones and his mother left the neighborhood. “The violence is what threw me off the most about America. In Liberia we would hand-fight each other. It’s a different thing there.”

Still, Jones remains optimistic about his adopted hometown. He took the photography classes at Journey’s End to help hone skills he can use at his own fledgling photo and video business on Bailey near Kensington.

“I can’t complain. Buffalo is cool, it’s what you make of it,” he said. “I love the art of videos and photography. It motivates me. I never took a photography class. Imagine the emotion you feel through a photo. I said, ‘I wanto to do that.’”

Buffalo Through Their Eyes at CEPA Gallery located at 617 Main St., Thursday, October 4th from 6-9 PM. $30/individual, $50/couples, $90/family (up to 5). Refreshments provided. For more information or to purchase tickets on-line, please visit

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