Making of “An Immigrant Alphabet” with Wendy Ewald at NEHS

Posted On:
15 May, 2017
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Spring 2017

At Northeast High School students explored issues of immigration and their experiences as immigrants in America with renowned photographer Wendy Ewald. Over the span of four weeks working with Ewald, students reflected on their and their families’ experiences to/in America and ways of representing their stories through mapping their journeys and identifying important momentos.

NEHS-Wendy-group
NEHS students and Wendy Ewald at Municipal Services Bldg, with test print of banner from Ewald’s past project.

The work co-created by students and Wendy Ewald will be compiled into a public art installation titled “An Immigrants’ Alphabet” — comprised of twenty-six 8’x10′ photographs printed on vinyl banners — to be displayed in Center City Philadelphia, wrapping around the exterior of the Municipal Services Building, from September through December 2017.

Student participants are: Amariah, Aya, Doha, Duvell Sanders, Gabriel, Gabrielle, Jenny, Joseph, Kayla, Kazi, Malika, Mariam, Rushana, Salawat, Sebastian, Suellen, Tania, and Xuan. Their places of origin span a range of continents, notably from Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Uzebekistan, Tajikstan, Turkey, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Argentina, Brazil, and Vietnam.

Northeast High School is the largest and most ethnically diverse public school in Philadelphia, serving over
3,300 students, with 59 languages spoken and 750 ESOL students. The Northeast neighborhood is rooted in the
immigrant experience, historically home to working class Irish, Polish, Jewish, Russian, Italian, and German. In
recent years, there has been an influx of working class non-European immigrants, people of color, and a primary
location for refugee resettlement by the Nationalities Services Center, Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, and
other agencies. In a public neighborhood school with eight small learning communities, NEHS students not
only reflect the rapidly changing community of the Northeast, but are often also referred to as a “microcosm” of
Philadelphia’s growing diversity.

Wendy Ewald is internationally renowned photographer and educator who has collaborated for over forty
years in art projects with children, families, and teachers worldwide — from South Africa, India, Morocco,
Palestine, Israel, Holland, Mexico, and Colombia, to numerous cities and rural communities within the United
States. She is known for her documentary investigations of places and communities, probing questions of
identity and cultural differences. Addressing conceptual, formal and narrative concerns, her work challenges
traditional notions of documentary photography and the role of the artist.


This project is made possible with the generous support of:

Barra Foundation, Philadelphia Foundation, Philadelphia Cultural Fund’s Youth Arts Enrichment, Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, Spruce Foundation

The next phase of this project with installation of the banners at the Municipal Services Building and engagement of the public in the surrounding plaza is supported by: Knight Foundation’s Knight Cities Challenge