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Faces of New America

  • Programs, Legacy

Exhibition of photographs by Jila Nikpay

Artist's Statement: "This collection of portraits of immigrant youth grew out of my fascination with the theme of cultural identity and belonging. I am drawn to working with these young people because of their flexibility and mystery. Through these portraits, I explore their complex rite of passage, which mirrors the evolving America identity" (continued below).

This touring exhibition is hosted by MELSA member libraries.

Faces of New America Exhibit Photos were displayed:


Library System



December 1, 2010–
January 30, 2011

Hennepin County

Minneapolis Central

300 Nicollet Mall, Cargill Hall, Minneapolis

February 2–
March 31, 2011

Carver County

Chanhassen Library

7711 Kerber Blvd., Chanhassen

** Artist Talk with Jila Nikpay, February 26, 2011, 1:00 p.m. Chanhassen Library,
7711 Kerber Blvd., Chanhassen

April 1–
May 30, 2011

Scott County


13090 Alabama Avenue South, Savage

April 1–
May 30, 2011

Scott County

Prior Lake

16210 Eagle Creek Avenue SE,
Prior Lake

June 1–29, 2011

Hennepin County


22 11th Avenue North, Hopkins

June 1–29, 2011

Hennepin County


12601 Ridgedale Drive, Minnetonka

July 1–
August 30, 2011

Anoka County

Mississippi Branch

410 Mississippi St. NE, Fridley

September 2011

Dakota County


1101 County Road 42 West, Burnsville

September 2011

Dakota County


14955 Galaxie Ave., Apple Valley

November–December 2011

Hennepin County


5244 Lyndale Ave S., Minneapolis

March 2012

Ramsey County

White Bear Lake

4698 Clark Ave., White Bear Lake

April 4–30, 2012

Washington County


763 Stillwater Rd., Mahtomedi

May 1–
June 28, 2012

Saint Paul Public

Hamline Midway

1558 Minnehaha Ave W, St. Paul

May 1–
June 28, 2012

Saint Paul Public

Dayton’s Bluff

534 East 7th St., St. Paul

July 1–31, 2012

Washington County

Hardwood Creek

19955 Forest Rd N, Forest Lake

Artist's Statement:

As my subjects are developing into adulthood they witness their parents’ struggle for acceptance in America. Their coming-of -age journey is also fraught with many paradoxes unique to the process of acculturation. One such paradox is peer pressure, the invisible incubator of American mainstream culture which is often a source of contention within immigrant families. This is particularly evident in cultures where models of respect demand loyalty to one’s parents and not peers. This lived experience of making sense of modern and traditional values enables the youth to navigate through cultures and subcultures, building personal histories and character unusual for their age.

In order to get a closer look at this dimension in the lives of my young subjects, I engage in personal interviews with the children and their parents prior to making the portraits. In this exchange, my own history of integration into American culture acts as a prism, through which the multi-faceted realities of the subject become visible. Our shared experience of crossing borders, cultures, time and memory serve as a foundation for understanding the “self” as a composite of identities, rooted in both “old” and “new” worlds.

Our identity is shaped as much by remembering as forgetting. Our face expresses that which lies beneath the surface in transitory moments. These portraits provide a window through which we might examine the changing face of this country at a crucial crossroad in our history.

JILA NIKPAY is an award-winning photographer/ filmmaker whose work explores the theme of identity and belonging. She has exhibited at the Walker Art Center, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Minnesota Historical Society and many other institutions nationally. Nikpay is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Jerome and McKnight foundations as well as the Minnesota State Arts Board. Her innovative educational projects with immigrant youth have received support from both the McKnight and St. Paul foundations.

and share your thoughts about these questions:

  • What does it mean to be an American?
  • What is the most American part of you?
  • Have you ever felt like an outsider?

Faces of New America is conceived and produced by Jila Nikpay
All photographs © Jila Nikpay 2010

Exhibition organized by MELSA and supported by Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.