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ASU student paints portraits of young immigrants living between 2 worlds

ASU student paints portraits of young emigres living between 2 worlds.
April 29, 2018

Outstanding Herberger undergraduate discovered art while living in a refugee camp

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Papay Solomon knows what it’s like to live in between.

The Arizona State University student, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting, has lived between two worlds for almost his whole life. Solomon was born in Africa and has lived in Phoenix since high school.

“At this point, I’m not African enough and I’m not American enough,” said Solomon, whose paintings focus on young African emigres.

“I paint young Africans from the diaspora. So we’re in the new spectrum where only we can relate. I’m trying to tell those stories of the in-betweeness that we all carry.”

Solomon’s paintings are telling the immigrants’ stories in an authentic way.

“Through my years in the states, I don’t feel like the representations of me are accurate. Either on TV or social media, you see people like me referred to as criminals or gangsters and I don’t relate to that,” he said.

“Although a painting can tell more than a thousand words, I wanted to tell more stories. I wanted to push the boundaries. I wanted there to be more than just a painting to learn about these people.”

Solomon, who has been named the outstanding undergraduate in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, was displaced by conflict as a child.

 “When my mother was pregnant with me, there was a civil war in Liberia and she had to flee. She gave birth to me in Guinea but I feel Liberian,” he said.

The family moved to the Kouankan refugee camp during civil unrest in Guinea when he was five years old. When the family relocated to Phoenix, Solomon began attending Central High School, where a helpful school counselor found art supplies for him to use. Thanks to a scholarship, he took classes at Phoenix College after graduating from high school. But not in art. He spent an unhappy two years majoring in computer programming

“I was thinking about the financial aspect of things and I wasn’t too sure about art,” he said. “But then I changed my route to painting.”

After earning two associate degrees, he transferred to ASU in 2015, and his art evolved.

“The most important way I grew was that I didn’t want to paint pretty pictures anymore. I wanted my paintings to be about something. That is when I discovered what I was passionate about,” he said.

Solomon is active in the Phoenix refugee community, where he meets other young people from Africa. He interviews them before painting them.

“I want people to know that we, as a people, are brilliant and hardworking. We are willing to do what it takes to contribute to society and make life better for future generations,” he said.

His style, created in oil paint, combines hyperrealism and "non finito," a classical style in which part of the finished work is left unfinished.

“The hyperrealism symbolizes my hyperawareness in the situation I’m in. Being in the middle makes me notice everything.

“'Non finito' is the other end — not fitting in any part. I’m trying to question what it means to be complete.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer:  I’ve known since age 5 that I would be an artist. I was the kid who was doodling on the lined paper notebooks that were handed out by the U.N. instead of taking notes.

During those times I needed a way to figure things out because I didn’t understand what was going on. I discovered art and that was my way of breaking down things and making them more understandable and making it something I could carry, because it was a heavy burden as a 5-year-old.

Q: What advice would you give to a young refugee who wants to go to college?

A: They should follow their heart and never question themselves. Who you are is already established. You need to find who you are and if you start questioning yourself, it’s more likely you’ll follow the wrong path.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The Art Building. I come to the Art Building and I stay there until midnight or early mornings. It’s where I’ve created a lot of memories. Anywhere else, I need a map.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m thinking about grad school but I’m going to take a year off and just figure things out and work on my body of work.

I’m also working on a documentary series and I’ll spend some time with my video team.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would definitely help with education. Because when I was in high school, I didn’t know I would make it to college and I needed help from people to be here today. So I would do the same thing. I would create a surrounding where it would be easy to educate people, where people could focus and be themselves without having to worry about daily struggles.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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ASU grad sees landscape architecture as a path to social justice

New ASU landscape architect sees nature as a path to social justice.
April 29, 2018

Kristin Antkoviak helping to revitalize her Phoenix neighborhood with trees, garden

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

For Kristin Antkoviak, plants and trees are one way to achieve social justice.

Antkoviak, who is graduating with a master’s degree in landscape architecture, has used her expertise to help revitalize her Phoenix neighborhood. And in connecting her neighbors with a little bit of nature, she’s carving out a new kind of career.

“I think it’s important that landscape architects transition from working for typical firms to working directly with neighborhoods because in terms of sustainability, social equity is highly under-addressed,” said Antkoviak, who has been named one of two outstanding graduate students for the spring semester by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

During her time at ASU, Antkoviak saw the importance of giving design help to vulnerable populations. She participated in a yearlong service-learning studio partnership with Hawai’i Green Growth, in which several ASU teams collaborated on a strategy to mitigate flooding in an area near a canal.

“We worked at a grassroots level with local communities and all the way up to the federal government,” she said. “And through that I started to understand that the policy end is critical to a lot of these issues we’re facing.”

After her experience helping poor neighborhoods in Hawai’i, Antkoviak decided to move into a “tiny house” dwelling in the neighborhood near Central Park in Phoenix, south of Chase Field.

“There were no street trees. The first thing I started to do was pull historical maps from 1930 until now and you can see there were almost no trees from then until now,” she said.

She noticed that the air quality was poor and that there was no sense of community among the residents. So last year, she and a neighbor started organizing community meetings, and she set up a day for everyone to volunteer to help plant trees.

“It’s a ‘small-is-beautiful’ approach to building community capacity,” she said.

They planted a hardy hybrid mesquite variety that can withstand low watering and doesn’t get too big.

“We didn’t know how many volunteers we would get but it turned out fantastic,” she said.

So they organized another planting in April, this time setting up a community pollinator garden, with native shrubs and perennials meant to draw butterflies.

“We asked people what they wanted and the main thing they wanted was color,” she said.

“I went door to door and I didn’t say, ‘This is the tree you’re going to get.’ I asked, ‘What do you like?’ Then I helped them with landscape architecture knowledge to fine tune what would be good. They didn’t even know some of the types that existed.”

They ended up planting 10 kinds of native trees in addition to the garden, which included desert marigold and flame acanthus.

That experience inspired her to think of a new kind of career.

“I’m starting to think about this concept of a neighborhood landscape architect who works directly with people,” she said.

“I’m big on empowering residents to understand that they can make a big impact. I’m trying to make a new role that doesn’t exist yet.”

Kristin Antkoviak organized a tree- and garden-planting day in her Phoenix neighborhood.

A neighborhood landscape architect would help educate people on water use and the tradeoffs of different kinds of trees they like, as well as coordinate with government and advocacy agencies.

“After 100 years of these social environmental injustices, I think these native plants can give a healing aspect to the community. Nature has so much to offer.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I was working as a microbiologist at Mayo Clinic for six years. I’m from a small town in northern Michigan, and I liked microbiology but I wanted to connect with nature and the land again.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to somebody who wants to do this?

A: I would talk directly to the professors in the program and also to past students so they can see how they turned out. It’s professors, students and professionals. You have to hit them all.

There are a couple groups in the community that would be good to talk to too: The Arizona Alliance for Livable Communities, the Arizona Partnership for Healthy Communities, the Downtown Voices Coalition. The Sonoran Institute is a great connection and also the Sustainable Cities Network.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would spend it right here. I would try to grow out the neighborhood green infrastructure. Landscape architecture can help us contribute to a sustainable planet. Plants provide that medium to connect to people. It all ties into community health.

Top photo: Kristin Antkoviak, who is earning a master's degree in landscape architecture, helped to organize to tree planting and garden installation in her Phoenix neighborhood.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503