An exhibit on an Arlington bus documents the inspiring stories of local immigrants

An exhibit on an Arlington bus documents the inspiring stories of local immigrants

Originally published by The Washington Post

Public transit commuters rarely interact with those around them, much less take the time to dig deep into their personal lives. But aboard a bus in Arlington, passengers will be introduced to six complete strangers and get to know their entire family histories through a new exhibit.

Local artist Gail Rebhan’s “Immigration/Assimilation” presents the migration stories of six Arlington families spanning several generations through a collage of historical documents, portraits and other artifacts. Displayed simultaneously on an Arlington transit bus through summer 2020 and in the lobby of the Bozman Government Center indefinitely, the imagery is enhanced with stories written by Rebhan that trace each family’s history.

“Except for Native Americans, this country is made up of immigrants,” Rebhan says. “I really liked the idea of doing this as a public art piece and to foster empathy and understanding.”

For Rebhan, a professor of photography at Northern Virginia Community College, the topic hits close to home. Her parents immigrated to the United States in the 1930s after fleeing European anti-Semitism. In “Immigration/Assimilation,” which will have an opening ceremony at the Bozman Government Center on Thursday (5:30-7:30 p.m., free), Rebhan explores similar stories from local residents.

“Immigration/Assimilation” is the 23rd exhibit to be featured in Arlington’s Art on the ART Bus program. The bus rotates throughout the routes of Arlington’s transit system to give the exhibit the greatest exposure.

“Sometimes people feel that art goes over their head and they don’t want to go to a museum,” says Cynthia Connolly, the special projects curator who runs the program. “Since the art is on a bus, I hope [‘Immigration/Assimilation’] speaks more closely to them and they take more time to understand it.”

Among the exhibit’s profiled subjects is Balbarmaa Sukhee, who emigrated from Mongolia with her family in the late ’90s. Sukhee found work at a local sandwich shop but was determined to find greater success. She wound up graduating from George Mason University’s School of Nursing in 2008 and now works for the public health division of Arlington County’s human services department.

“Every family reflects American history in some way,” Rebhan says. “I want people to understand this commonality about this country, that everybody came from some country of origin at some point in their family history.”

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